Hello BookEnders! I know I updated only a few days ago. But I was just scrolling through my tumblr dashboard, and in the midst of all the gifs and quotes and articles about reading and writing and librarianing, one stood out for a moment. “I’ve decided to pick three books for #read for mental health week.”
I haven’t read all three of the books in that post. I’ve been meaning to read The Bell Jar for ages, hadn’t heard of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, but loved It’s Kind of a Funny Story. First, I had to look up when Mental Health Awareness week even is (for 2013, it’s October 6th through the 12th). Mental Health Day itself is coming up on Thursday, October 10th. There’s something a little sad about becoming aware that you were unaware of mental health awareness.
But although I didn’t know there was a special week or day designated to mental health awareness, it’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot this past year. And while I won’t go into details, I have a lot of people in my life who’ve dealt (and are still dealing) with mental illness in one form or another. And I include myself in that group.
That’s something I’m hesitant to admit on this blog – probably because we’re socially conditioned to view mental illness as some kind of shameful secret, a sign of weakness. But to me, it seems like another unavoidable part of the human condition. Like with physical illness, some of us just get sick for a little while; others face more chronic conditions. We get better and we relapse – and (hopefully) we get better again.
I’m not qualified to talk about mental illness beyond what I’ve learned from my own experiences and that of my friends and family. And it’s often hard to know what to say when you’re not sure how (or if) you can help someone you love. But I always know how to talk about books. So, taking my cue from the above tumblr post, here’s a few books I’d recommend for mental health awareness week.
1) Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta – There are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of reasons to love this book. One of them is its exploration of depression and its effects on an entire family. The story starts when Mia Spinelli – driving force of the Spinelli family and mother to sixteen-year-old protagonist Francesca – can’t get out of bed. Although Mia’s major depression drives the larger storyline, her depression is reflected in Francesca’s life, as well. I think it generally gives a really complex look into what depression means for different people.
Quote from Saving Francesca:
The depression belongs to all of us. I think of the family down the road whose mother was having a baby and they went around the neighborhood saying, “We’re pregnant.” I want to go around the neighborhood saying, “We’re depressed.” If my mum can’t get out of bed in the morning, all of us feel the same. Her silence has become ours, and it’s eating us alive.
2) The Nature of Jade, by Deb Caletti – In this novel, high school senior, Jade, begins to pursue her interests – such as volunteering in the elephant house at the local zoo – in spite of the anxiety and panic attacks from which she suffers. I especially love this book now, because a) it’s set in Seattle and b) it helps me feel close to the friend who recommended it to me, although she is pretty far away geographically. If you have a hankering to read about elephants, Seattle, or a smart, funny girl who happens to have anxiety, check this one out.
Quote from The Nature of Jade:
I am not my illness. “Girl with Anxiety,” “Trauma of the Week” — no. I hate stuff like that. Everyone, everyone has their issue. But the one thing my illness did make me realize is how necessary it is to ignore the dangers of living in order to live. And how much trouble you can get into if you can’t.
3) It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini – I know that the post above includes this novel, but I have to second it. Craig Gilner is an overachiever determined to get into the prestigious “Executive Pre-Professional” school of Manhattan. The only problem – he’s not sure how to cope once he’s actually there. Craig enters a downward spiral that brings him into a mental hospital, where he meets others suffering from mental illness in one form or another. There, he learns not only why he’s there – but what happens once he gets out. It’s sad, it’s honest, but most of all – well, kind of a funny story.
Quote from It’s Kind of a Funny Story:
“I’m going to be here until I’m cured?”
“Life is not cured, Mr. Gilner. Life is managed.”
I know I always say this at the end of blog posts, but I would truly love for readers to add to the discussion in comments; what books have contributed to your understanding of mental illness? This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few books that have stood out for me. In the meantime, make sure to do your best in supporting those in your life struggling with mental illness – this week, or any other time of the year.
National Institute of Mental Health’s Website – This site provides a pretty broad array of different resources and information. If you have any other resources to share, please leave them in the comments.