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Thinking about 13 Reasons Why: Teens, Mental Health and Media

Please Note: This Post Will Contain Discussions of Triggering Topics and Spoilers for the Book/Show

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You are probably aware that 13 Reasons Why the book by Jay Asher has been made into a popular Netflix show. And you’ve probably seen a lot of discussion about this show. In fact, if you’re life looks anything like mine then you have seen a plethora of articles and posts about how everyone should watch the show followed by a discussion of how everyone shouldn’t watch the show. I’ve read more than 10 articles, not to mention all the Facebook and Twitter discussion.

A Little Background

Years ago when I read the book, I liked it and recommended it. I have not re-read the book in preparation for watching the show. If you are not aware, it is a book that deals with bullying, sexual violence and suicide. These are all tough topics to tackle.

The basics: Clay Jensen, a shy high school student, returns home from school one day to find that he has received a mysterious package in the mail. It contains seven double-sided cassette tapes used by Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Each tape details a reason that she killed herself.

To give you a little more background about me, I am the survivor of sexual abuse and I have been suicidal as a result of that abuse. I also periodically struggle with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. So I can relate to this book on so many levels.

What I Told My Teen

In addition to working with teens, for over 20 years now, I also parent a teen. She began watching the Netflix show and we watched a couple of episodes of the show together. I was struck immediately by how graphic the show was. Please note that it comes with a M for mature content warning. So I decided to watch ahead to see how the topics of sexual violence and suicide were handled.

After doing so, I told my teen that I did not want her to finish watching the show. I have never censored what she reads, and I would allow her to read the book, but I told her that she couldn’t finish watching the show.

My Reasons Why

For one, I just don’t watch depictions of sexual violence on tv or in the movies. That is a full stop no for me. The sexual violence depicted in this tv show is very graphic. You can make the argument that it’s necessary and is done to help illustrate how horrific sexual violence is, but the depiction of sexual violence on the screen is a no go for me. For one, no matter how well done it is, you know that there are depraved individuals watching who are, to be blunt, getting off on it. For another, I always wonder how having to film these types of scenes is for the actors involved. And these scenes are, for so many people, very triggering. Below we will discuss how mental health experts suggest that suicide should not be depicted on the screen, and I feel the same way about sexual violence.

Then there is the idea of suicide as revenge. In 13 Reasons Why the main character, Hannah, commits suicide and leaves a series of cassette tapes that tell everyone the role they played in her suicide. It’s the ultimate revenge fantasy – I will take my own life and you will feel guilty for it. It’s also an incredibly unhealthy message to send to teenagers, many of whom are already thinking about the suicide as revenge fantasy as they try to navigate their daily lives. In the midst of my abuse, I too thought a lot about suicide as the ultimate form of revenge. I thought that if I took my life then my abuser would be haunted forever for what they had done to me. But adult me now realizes this simple truth: the people that hurt you are often bad people, they aren’t going to care that you are gone. It’s true that sometimes good, decent people make mistakes that hurt us and they would feel guilty, but it’s also true that a lot of abuse is perpetuated by people who don’t care about others so they aren’t going to feel guilt. Surviving abuse is, I have found, the best form of revenge.

As a further point, it’s important to note that mental health experts state that suicide should never be depicted on the screen. For reasons that we don’t clearly understand, suicide can be a very chain reaction type of thing, especially among teenagers. When a school experiences a suicide, there are often a couple more. People struggling with depression and suicidal ideation are very susceptible to this topic. And the suicide in 13 Reasons Why is very, very graphic. It goes against the recommendations of the organizations that are committed to mental health.

I also have concerns about the way mental health is depicted in the show. There is little to no genuine discussion about mental health issues in this show. We are led to understand that Hannah has depression, but what does that mean? Does Hannah have depression AND she was the subject of this awful crime and bullying? Or does Hannah have depression BECAUSE she was the subject of this awful crime and bullying? Depression can be a product of brain chemistry, but you can also have situational depression. Depression is not only one thing and it doesn’t manifest in the same way for all people. I felt that the show did a very poor job of handling the mental health aspects.

The teens in this show almost never seek out the help of an adult. As Clay listens to the tapes, he never discusses any of what is happening with an adult. We do find out that Hannah did in fact reach out to one adult, her school counselor, and that this adult fails her. This scenario actually played out in real life just this past weekend as my daughter’s friend reached out to her school counselor about a rumor that was being spread in school and this counselor told her to “just let it blow over”. I spent the weekend dealing with the very real life ramifications of a poorly trained and unengaged school counselor so this scenario isn’t far fetched or unbelievable, but it is dangerous. In a show filled with adults, having the only adult that these teens reach out to fail reinforces the teenage belief that adults aren’t there for teens. Now I know it was necessary to propel this story forward, but I also acknowledge that it is a dangerous reinforcement of a commonly held teenage belief: adults are self-absorbed, adults don’t care, adults are incompetent. Teens struggling with mental health issues need to know that they can and should reach out to the adults in their lives to seek help.

In teen reactions I have seen to the show there has been a lot of if only . . . If only Clay had told Hannah that he loved her. If only Clay had done this or that or the other. This also is a dangerous idea because it blames the survivors. The truth is that no one is responsible for mental illness. It’s an illness and the actions of others don’t cause it. The things that happened to Hannah could not have happened, she could have been the most popular, happiest girl in school, and she still might have died by suicide, because that’s how depression works. Clay is not responsible for what happens to Hannah. He is not to blame. And nothing he could have done would have saved her. And it’s important that everyone understand this. Depression and mental illness are very real, complicated diseases. If Hannah had diabetes and she died from the complications of diabetes, we would not blame Clay or suggest that if Clay had just told her he loved her she would have been okay. And that is true of mental health issues as well. It’s important that everyone watching this show understands that. And I’m not sure that everyone does and it is very concerning.

In the end, one of the arguments made against this show is that it romanticizes suicide, and I can see where that argument holds. I also want to acknowledge that for a lot of teens, this book and the show have been very positive and affirming. They state that it helped them by affirming that they are not alone in their feelings. So I hate to universally dismiss a show that my teens have had positive identification with. As I mentioned, there are strong reactions on both the pro and con side of this show, and I feel that they are both valid. I, personally, tend to be more in favor of the book and less in favor of the show for the reasons mentioned.

One thing that I think about over and over again is how everyone says that teens should be watching this show and talking about it with adults. The truth is, not every teen has an adult to talk about the show with. My teen could finish watching the show and I would talk to her about it, but not all teens have present and engaged parents. And yes, you could read the book in the classroom and talk about it, though I would remind us all that we are librarians and not social workers or psychologists. I don’t think you can watch the show in a classroom given the rating. So that leaves us with this: here is a show that everyone says teens need to watch and talk to an adult with to process, but many teens don’t have an adult to talk with and process this show. I can’t help but think about all those teens who have watched this show and don’t have a trusted, knowledgeable adult to help them process their thoughts and feelings about this.

We do talk about sexual violence and depression in my house. I have talked since the moment my kids were born with them about bodily autonomy and consent and healthy relationships. They know what rape is, and other forms of sexual violence. And we are very aware of mental health issues. My kids have seen me spend a couple of days in bed in a deep depressive state. They know that a year and a half ago my best friend died by suicide and they have seen the effects it has had on me. These are not issues I shy away from or try to protect my kids from. I just thought that this show was too much for them at this time. So we’re not watching it.

More Reading

Why teen mental health experts are focused on ‘13 Reasons Why

Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why‘ Carries Danger of Glorifying Suicide

13 Reasons Why‘ offers the wrong solution to teen struggles

Opinion: How ‘13 Reasons Why‘ gets suicide wrong

Does13 Reasons Why” Glorify Suicide? Mental Health Experts

13 Reasons Whydepicts a graphic suicide; experts say there’s a problem with that

13 Reasons Why” oversimplifies suicide

13 Reasons Why: A Survivor’s Perspective

This Master List of ‘13 Reasons Why‘ Trigger Warnings Is So Important

‘The Show “13 Reasons Why” Didn’t Trigger Me To Commit Suicide, But it Could Have

Sunday Reflections: TRIGGER WARNING – This Post is About Suicide and Why We Shouldn’t Joke About It

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST IS ABOUT SUICIDE. I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND IF YOU CAN’T READ IT.

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On December 31st of this year, my best friend from high school got online and posted on Facebook: “Happy New Year everyone, have a great year.” A mere twelve hours later his new wife – they had just gotten married four months earlier – posted that my friend had taken his own life. Nine months later we are all still grieving. What did we miss, we wonder? Why didn’t we know, we wonder? Where were the signs?

The truth is, this is the 5th person in five years I know that has died in this way.

One of them was a teen that came into my library several times a week. A teen I knew. I teen I had nurtured and loved.

My teen.

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In the summer of 2015 I had decided that I was going to take my own life. It seemed the only way to end the pain I was feeling. It was a thought that had taken hold in my brain that I couldn’t seem to let go of.

I have struggled with these thoughts on and off for the last year and a half. It turns out that I have a health condition that needed seriously attended to – extreme hypothyroidism – and one of the symptoms can be depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I can not tell you how much it sucks to feel and think this way. I have had to sit down and have hard conversations with my doctors, my family, and my children.

If I had followed through with the thoughts that had taken hold of me last summer, my daughter’s foray into her teenage years would have always been marked by the fact that her mother had taken her own life right before she turned 13. Thankfully, that’s not a burden she has to bear. She was lucky, many others are not.

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I work with teenagers in a library. Recently we have had a problem with a lot of suicide talk – and joking. GKY they tell each other: Go Kill Yourself. They joke about drinking bleach. We had to tell them that they couldn’t print off pictures of bottles of bleach and make them into buttons with our button makers. Not here, not at the library. We talked about suicide and why it wasn’t a joking matter. One day a teen told me in all seriousness that he really did want to die. He was hurting.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS CONSIDERING SUICIDE, PLEASE CALL

THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

1-800-273-8255

 

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Here are some facts about teens and suicide:

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among young people ages 15 – 24

Although girls think about and attempt suicide more frequently, boys are more likely to succeed because they use more deadly means such as a gun or jumping off of a bridge. Teenage boys die 4x as often as girls from suicide.

It is believed that there are 25 attempts for every completed teen suicide. That means for every teen suicide that is successful, there are another 25 teens who attempt but do not succeed.

Sources:

http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/suicide.html#

https://www.teenhelp.com/infographics/teen-suicide-statistics-infographic-2016/

http://www.ministrybestpractices.com/2013/04/the-scary-numbers-on-youth-depression.html

http://infographicsmania.com/youth-suicide-statistics/

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Earlier this week, a YA author posted a picture of his newest book cover with a disturbing line that could definitely be read as a joke about suicide. The book cover was gorgeous, the suicide joke was disturbing. I thought in that moment about how much of my last year has been about dealing with suicide. Being in the mire and the muck of depression and suicide, being surrounded by it in every corner of your life, having to talk to teens about it, having to sit with teens as they mourn a friend, mourning your own friend – there is nothing witty or funny or amusing or irreverent about suicide.

When a tragedy happens, the jokes always come. I remember hearing the first Challenger joke, the first 9/11 joke, and we always ask, is it too soon? The truth is that suicide jokes are always too soon. We never know who around us is dealing with this issue. Maybe they are wrestling with their own suicidal thoughts, trying to make it through another day and hope that the thoughts will somehow go away. Maybe they are trying to hold the hand of a friend or family member who is trying to just hang on. Maybe they are mourning the loss of a loved one, wrestling with the doubt and the guilt and the fear and the anger and the emptiness. For someone around you, it is always too soon. And the truth is, you don’t know. You just don’t know.

As someone who works for and with teens, I have a responsibility to know and understand them, their lives, the issues that they are facing and struggling with. Being a teenager is hard. You are a child and yet not really. You are trying to figure out who you are and what you believe and your place in the world. The teenage years are the time when mental illness is most likely to rear its ugly head. Or questions about gender identity and sexuality (which are other high depression and suicide related factors). The teenage years are glorious, but they are also scary and dangerous and complicated. We owe it to our teens to understand the issues they are facing and be responsible in how we talk to and about those issues.

And maybe we just owe each other a little bit of grace, the grace that reminds us that people around us are struggling with these issues and we don’t know who those people are. I’m not saying don’t talk about suicide, because I think we should. We should talk about and destigmatize mental illness and all the things that go with that. We should talk about suicide because it is real and it happens and people are struggling with it. We should talk about it so that people know they aren’t alone.

But joke about it as a marketing tool? No, let’s not do that. Because somewhere a teen might be listening and they might hear the wrong thing and that, my friends, would be a tragedy. We’ve had enough tragedy this year. I’ve had enough tragedy this year.

Teens are listening. What are you going to say to them?

(PS – Because I mentioned my health struggles, I want you to know that I’m doing fairly well these days. I’m seeing a doctor and we’re addressing the issues.)

#MHYALit Update and January 2016 Launch Schedule

It’s almost 2016. Wait – what? IT’S ALMOST 2016! How did that happen? This month we have been busily plugging away at putting together a January launch schedule for the #MHYALit Discussion. So here’s a little look at what we have coming in 2016.

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So far, we have about 40 authors, librarians, parents of teens, former teens and teens themselves joining us to discuss mental health in YA lit and the life of teens. We will be sharing posts all year long, though to kick off our discussion we are aiming for a post every day we post in January. Here’s what the current schedule looks like (though it is subject to change because life happens).

4th – Annie Cardi, author of The Chance You Won’t Return, shares her first of 3 posts

5th – Tom Leveen, author of Shackled, shares his first of 2 posts

6th – Tom Leveen shares his second post

7th – Librarian Erinn Salge discusses how librarians can help struggling teens

8th – Kimberly Bradly, author of The War That Saved My Life, discusses PTSD

11th – Robison Wells, author of the Variant series

12th – Christa Desir, author of Other Broken Things, discusses addiction

13th – The first of many book lists appears. Today’s topic is Schizophrenia. RA list compiled by Natalie Korsavidis (who is doing multiple RA lists for the discussion).

14th – Carrie Mesrobian, author of Cuts Both Ways, discusses the books of Melina Marchetta

15th – In the works, TBA

18th – Librarian Danielle Masterson

19th – Jackie Lea Sommers, author of Truest

20th – Aspiring author and amazing former teen who is now technically an adult Bryson McCrone

21st – Ann Jacobus, author of Romancing the Dark in the City of Light

22nd – Jessica Sankiewizc, author of the New Adult novella This Night

25th – Librarian Dawn Abron on working with teens in the library

26th – The Green Bean Teen Queen Sarah

27th – Tamara Ireland Stone, author of Every Last Word, shares a first of two posts on OCD, depression and anxiety

28th – Tamara Ireland Stone shares post two

29th – Stephanie Khuen, author of Complicit

As I mentioned, there are lots of others posts coming throughout the year. We will be joined by authors like Lois Metzger, Emery Lord, J. J. Johnson, Clare LeGrand, Mia Siegert, Jessica Spotswood, Nita Tyndall, Jolene Siana, Kathleen Glasgow, Evan Roskos, Myra McEntire, and Corey Ann Haydu, to name just a few. There are also more librarians, former teens and actual teens lined up to share their thoughts, experiences and insight.

You can find an index of the project and all posts here.

Sunday Reflections: Exit Strategies, a personal reflection for National Suicide Prevention Week (Trigger Warning)

Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse and Suicide are discussed in this post

suicidepreventionweekThe first time I ever thought about it I was in the 8th grade and being abused by someone living in my household. I wrote a will, typing it up on the old fashioned typewriter I had asked for Christmas that year, and folded it into a tiny square and tucked it under the slats of my brother’s bunk bed. I was only 12 or 13 so I didn’t really have a lot to leave behind, it was more of a symbolic gesture. I remember leaving my over-sized Wham poster to my best friend, knowing that she was the only person who would appreciate the enormity of the gift I was bestowing upon her and give it the respect and adulation it deserved. I miss that Wham poster.

Later that year I would find a way out of my traumatizing environment and on the whole I did better. I’m 42 now and throughout my life there have been a few other periods where I have descended into another dark period and formulated for myself what I euphemistically call an “exit strategy”. I spent months during one of my darker times driving over a very high bridge to work and every day I did I thought to myself, if I need to, if it gets too bad, I can just drive over this edge.

My 4th really dark period occurred just this summer. It was not, in fact, a good time to live in the Jensen household. Right after The Mr. came and got me in Ohio to take me to see the doctor, he himself spiraled into a very serious physical illness that laid him up for weeks, pneumonia and pleurisy. So there the two of us were, trying to parent from bed while my thyroid and brain chemistry tried to get re-balanced and he tried to breathe. I was forced to have conversations with The Teen about mental health and what was happening to me, in age appropriate ways. I worked really hard to hide the true extent of my struggles from both of my girls. And only later, as I started to claw my way out of this darkness did I begin to tell a few close friends that it was so bad that once again I had devised an exit strategy.

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“The next time,” one of my best friends said, “please call me when it gets that bad.” But I don’t, only being able to talk about it when it’s not so immediate and dark. In part because I don’t want to be that person, I don’t want to be that person whose brain gets messed up and who contemplates things like exit strategies. I love my husband, I love my kids, and I’m blessed to be able to do the things I love – be a YA librarian and write my blog. But depression and anxiety aren’t really about liking your life, they are about brain chemistry and hormones and, in my case, totally messed up thyroid function. Sometimes you never find a specific cause, it’s just a thing that happens and when it does each person must find the right course of treatment to help them.

I said to my close friend recently, “It must be so hard being my friend.” To which she replied, “No, it’s not hard at all. Though it is sometimes scary.” There was so much grace in this statement, this idea that loving me isn’t hard and the thought of losing me is scary. It spoke of my life as having value at a time when I needed reminding that what was happening wasn’t my fault and people do care.

This week was suicide prevention week. In addition to my own personal struggles, in the last 4 years I have had 4 friends or teens take or attempt to take their own lives. Three of them succeeded. One of them now suffers from brain damage and permanent disability. I have friends who constantly mourn, years later, the loss of a loved one from suicide. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens and it is on the rise among adults in part due to our failing economy and the very real financial struggles and stress these events put upon us. 1 in 5 teens and 1 and 4 adults is struggling with some type of mental health issue.

So why am I sharing this with you? There are many who claim that suicide is a selfish act, but when you are in the thick of it, it doesn’t feel that way. I know that at the times that I was truly thinking about exit strategies I did so out of my desire to end the very real pain happening inside my body, and the pain I perceived I was causing and thought I would continue to cause my family. I didn’t want to continue to be a physical, emotional and, most importantly, financial burden on my family. And the physical pain that comes with some symptoms of depression and, for me, more specifically anxiety, are very difficult to live with.

I don’t actually want to die. And I certainly don’t want to take my own life. But depression and anxiety can trick your brain into thinking that would be the best solution for everyone involved. I have thought that my kids would be better off without me. I have felt broken and abandoned and alone and a burden. I have been ashamed, too ashamed to ask for the help and love I needed. But somehow, I have been lucky, because in the end I have always eventually asked for help when I needed it. Sometimes it has come close, dangerously close to being too late. This summer The Mr. and Mary and Mike and Ally and Amanda and Robin and Heather and my girls helped me once again claw my way out of darkness. They were patient and kind and did simple things like text me daily and say I love you and you will get through this. There was a time when I didn’t think I would, and now I am, day by day. Today I’m doing pretty good, reminding me that there is hope.

Even though it has happened before, I am always surprised when it happens again. It’s not something I choose, it’s not something that anyone would choose. I’m happy, enjoying swimming with my kids and reading books and being a success at work and then slowly it starts to creep in again. And because I don’t choose it I can’t just choose to be better. For me, it takes a combination of medication – thyroid support and other medications – and love, support and kindness from the people I love. The Mr., he is as patient as a saint and more kind that it seems should be humanly possible.

I was devastated when one of the teens from my library took his own life shortly after graduation. I felt not anger, because I understood where he might be coming from, but a tremendous amount of sadness to know that he was in that dark place where you start thinking about exit strategies. When you work with teens, it’s important to keep in mind that at all times several of your teens are trying to slay their own mental health dragons, some of them are failing and trying to think of their own exit strategies. It’s also important to remember that you are in no way qualified to help when these issues arrive, though you can do small things like be a caring, nonjudgmental adult who takes the time to affirm the value of their existence. Listen. Be patient. Be kind. Remember that some of the “baddest”, most “difficult” kids may be wrestling with issues that really deserve different labels. What we see as difficult may in fact be a code for hurting. Now, more than ever, we should always chose kind. Sometimes that one kind moment can be the difference between following through on an exit strategy and finding the courage to ask for help. You often will never know, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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For more on teens and mental health, please visit the TLT #MHYALit Discussion Hub

Resources:

The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

MHYALitlogoofficfialAfter our first year of the #SVYALit Project, we decided that we at TLT liked the way the format worked and wanted to use it to discuss other topics of relevance to the life of teens. One of the ideas we discussed was using the format to discuss mental health issues in the life of teens and in YA literature, but I was not yet quite ready to delve more deeply into that topic because I was not yet ready to admit my own personal struggles with depression and anxiety. Earlier this year I did in fact share my personal story, which seemed to be the last stumbling point in TLT embracing the #SVYALit format to move forward in discussing mental health. So today we are excited to announce that in addition to #SVYALit and #FSYALit, in 2016 we will be using this same format to more fully discuss both poverty and mental health in the life of teens. Thus, we are excited to put out a call for guest posters for the #MHYALit Discussion (Mental Health in YA Literature).

1 in 5 teens will be diagnosed with some type of mental health issue. In addition, many other teens will be affected by mental health issues in the family as their parents, siblings, and friends struggle with mental health issues. During 2016 TLT would like to really use YA literature to discuss mental health issues in the life of teens. And we need your help. If you would like to write a guest post or share a book list, please contact me at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. We will be talking throughout 2016, but we would really like to have a good array of posts to launch in early 2016. Amanda MacGregor and Ally Watkins will be helping to organize and coordinate this discussion.

There are lots of important conversations happening right now in many ways about mental health issues. Lots of people are being brave and sharing their personal struggles. Lots of great teen advocates, librarians, authors, and other professionals are engaging in these important conversations and we recommend reading and engaging in as many of them as possible. It’s a huge issue in the life of teens. We are not qualified experts in this discussion, though many of us at TLT have struggled with mental health issues in a variety of ways. And we have of course worked with many teens who have shared their personal stories and struggles with us; this has impacted our understanding of the issues and made us more cognizant to how important this topic is. We hope you’ll join us in reading and writing about this topic.

Project Goals:

  • To facilitate a discussion about the ways various mental health issues are presented and discussed in YA literature.
  • To examine specific titles and create lists of titles that those wanting to look for titles with diverse representations of various mental health issues can add to their collections or buy for the teens in their lives.
  • To include a wide variety of voices on the topic of mental health issues in the life of teens.

Some Basic Information

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.

In addition, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and love ones of many of our teens.

Mental health issues are an important issue for teens. Reading stories about characters with mental health disorders can help teens understand their parents, their friends, or their selves. It can give them hope. It can affirm and validate their experiences. Below are links to several lists of YA titles that deal with mental health issues in some way.

Addiction

Where Are the Books on Addiction for Your Mental Health Book List? by author Christa Desir

Anxiety/Panic

Anxiety, Me and It’s All Your Fault, by guest blogger Liz Anderson

Pretending to be Normal: A Story About My Anxiety by Jessica Sankiewicz

Anxiety, Me and Fangirl, a guest post by Danielle Masterson

Panic: What Fear Feels Like by author Tom Leveen

Book Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Accepting Anxiety, a guest post by Jessica Spotswood

How to Manage, reflections on anxiety by Ally Watkins

Knowing When to Talk About It, a Guest Post by Kathryn Holmes

Anxiety Disorder, My Son, and Me by Amanda MacGregor

It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, a guest post by author Claire Legrand

Ill Enough, a guest post by Nita Tyndall

Bipolar

Shattered Illusions: Growing up with a Bipolar Father, a guest post by Kim Baccellia

Depression

Depression and Obsession: The Pressure of Teen Athletes, by Mia Siegert

Major Depressive Dropout, a guest post by Bryson McCrone.

On depression and Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca, by author Carrie Mesrobian

Reading Lists: Depression, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Book Review: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Eating the Nuts, a guest post reflecting on depression by author Mackenzi Lee

Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Eating Disorders

Haunting the 616.85 Section, a #MHYALit guest post by BELIEVAREXIC author J. J. Johnson

The Fantasy of Being Thin and YA Lit, a guest post by Katelyn Browne

“Eating Disorder” Books: How They Only Show Half of the Struggle, a guest post by Jen Petro-Roy

Grief and Loss

A Place Where I Know: Writing About Grief by Hannah Barnaby

Survivor’s Guilt: The Aftermath of Grief by Sherri L. Smith

Medication

On Medication, a guest post by author Emery Lord

Mental Health Care/Advocacy

When the Ending Is Not the End: Mental Health and Accepting the Long-Term Journey by Annie Cardi

On Narrative Expectations and the Reflection of Truth, by author Stephanie Kuehn

How Libraries Can Help Teens, by Librarian Dawn Abron

You Are Not Alone, The Primary Message by E. Sparling

How My Debut Year Got Me to Therapy and Why That’s a Good Thing by Annie Cardi

Taking a Historical Look at Mental Health with Mindy McGinnis and A MADNESS SO DISCREET

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Pushed Too Hard: Academic Pressure and Mental Health Concerns by Cindy L. Rodriguez

You Won’t Find Girl Interrupted’s Angelina Jolie But At Least You’ll Be Safe! Why Being Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues Isn’t a Bad Thing, a guest post by Ami Allen-Vath

Talking about mental health-related books and issues with teens

The Best Way to Erase the Stigma of Mental Health – Talk About It! by Deanna Cabinian

Puzzling Through Teen Mental Health, a conversation with Emily Franklin and H.A. Swain

You’re Not Alone, a guest post by author Pintip Dunn

Psychological Thrillers and Mental Health

Kneejerk Reactions are Just Jerky, a guest post by author Stacie Ramey

Faith Shaming and Mental Illness, Reflecting on Faith and Mental Illness for the #MHYALit Project

Five Ways to Cope: A Survival Guide for Family Members of Those with Mental Illnesses

Seven Myths About Mental Illness, a guest post by author Paula Stokes

Who Cares for the Caregivers?

Let’s Talk About How We Talk About Mental Health

Please Let’s Stop Telling People with Mental Health Issues to Just X, Y or Z

From Our Mailbox: #MHYALit and POC

This Book Will Save Your Life, a guest post by author Kathleen Glasgow

My Definition of Crazy, a guest post by author Lois Metzger

Why You Shouldn’t Ban Your Kid from the Internet, a guest post by Laura Tims

#MHYALit Interview with HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR author John Corey Whaley

Enough: A #MHYALIT guest post by Katie H.

Those Left Behind, discussing the ways that the mental health struggles of others affect teens, a guest post by Katherine Fleet

Teens, Mental Health and the Places it Takes Them, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

OCD

Author Tamara Ireland Stone Interviews a Teen Called C about OCD

10 Things I Wish You Knew About OCD, by author Tamara Ireland Stone and C

The Story is Enough: Writing the Books I Needed to Read, a guest post by Jackie Lea Sommers

OCD Tales – Reflections on an OCD Sufferer’s Sabbatical Study of YA Novels of Mental Illness by Diane Scrofano

PTSD

Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ada, and Me by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

It’s Not Your Fault: Living Each Day with PTSD by Tom Leveen

Speak Up! A guest post about PTSD by author Shannon Greenland

Book Review: Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

Schizophrenia

Reading Lists: Schizophrenia, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Self-harm

Picking at Problems, a look at self-harm by author Robison Wells

The Truth I Forgot to Remember, a guest post by Sashi Kaufman

Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Suicide

Author Ann Jacobus Talks About Suicide

Sunday Reflections: Kicking off the Year of #MHYALit

Before and After, a guest post by Melissa Montovani

Nineteen Years of Living, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Therapy

Writing a Therapy-Positive Book, a guest post by Marisa Reichardt

What You Want to Hear, a guest post by Shari Goldhagen

Booklists

Reading Lists: Schizophrenia, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Reading Lists: Depression, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Book Review: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Book Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Book Review: Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

Previous TLT Posts

Top 10: Books dealing with mental health (guest post by Kim Baccellia)

How Mental Illness Tried and Failed to Ruin My Life (guest post by Robison Wells)

Mental Health Medications Are Not Your Enemy

List of Lists: Teens and Mental Health Resources

Sunday Reflections: Today, I am Eeyore (a reflection on depression and anxiety in the life of tweens and teens)

Medication, Depression, and I Was Here

O Captain, My Captain: In which I mourn the loss of a childhood hero and discuss depression and suicide

The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady: mental illness in three acts

Diverse Teens, Diverse Needs

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (discusses medication)

Additional Book Lists and Discussions Around the Internet

For Statistics, Facts and Resources, Check Out These Resources

We need your help building our resource guide! Have a book list or blog post you want to see included? Please email us a link at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. Although we will be taking guest posts all throughout 2016, if you know you would like to participate in the launch in early 2016, please email me by the end of September. We will be continuing our discussions on #SVYALit, #FSYALit, #Poverty and #MHYALit throughout all of 2016. Thank you for your help in discussing this important issues in the life of teens.

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Sunday Reflections: Today, I am Eeyore (a reflection on depression and anxiety in the life of tweens and teens)

Yesterday TLT celebrated 4 years as a blog but the truth is, I haven’t been very celebratory this week. In fact, this week has been one of the hardest of my life. Not the hardest, just one of them. And this week I had to have one of the most difficult conversations with my almost teenage daughter. It didn’t involve sex or death, it was about depression and anxiety. It was about MY depression and anxiety.

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You see, on occasion I have trouble with depression and anxiety. On a rare occasion, I have full blown panic attacks. It took me a long time to admit this to myself, an even longer time to admit it to the people I love and trust, and I never wanted to admit it to my daughter, because I don’t want it to be true. But it is true, no matter how much I don’t want it to be. It is a truth of me that I can’t escape, no matter how much I wish it were so.

I don’t like feeling broken. I want to be strong and secure because I want to provide that for my children. I want, more than anything, for them to feel safe and secure and loved and stable. But the reality of life has, at times, made that difficult for me to provide to them. Job loss, home loss, and job insecurity have all put us in a place of flux. We’ve had to move and leave people we love once. We might have to do it again. And the uncertainty of it all has sent my anxiety off the charts. The thing I want most for my children is just out of reach and I feel shaky inside my skin.

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Although I can look back now and see moments in my life where maybe there were hints, I can honestly say that the first time I experienced full blown, barely able to get out of bed depression was after we lost our baby. The Tween was 4. It lasted for months. I worked. I took care of my child. And I lived in a state of depressive fog that made everything else virtually impossible. I did the things I needed to do to survive until I came to the place where I once again felt like I was doing more than just surviving, but living.

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It was the day after my D&C that I had my first real panic attack. It was 4 in the morning. The Tween and I were visiting my mother when my chest suddenly felt as if it was on fire. As did my upper arms. I rushed to my mother’s room, sure I was having a heart attack. At the ER they didn’t even test my heart, they knew right away what was happening. It’s been 10 years and I know what is happening now, too.

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When Thing 2 was born I again experienced another major depressive episode, this time marked with more severe anxiety and some obsessive thoughts. After everything we went through to bring this baby into the world, the Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the bed rest, the longing and praying and crying and pleading, I welcomed this baby into the world with a bizarre detachment that I could not understand. When she cried at night and I approached her crib to soothe her I saw the scene being played out in my mind’s eye as if I was watching a movie on a grainy television screen at the end of a long tunnel. On one level I was aware that this was me taking care of my baby, but it also felt like I was watching someone else taking care of this baby.

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I cried a lot. And I am ashamed to admit that I kept asking my husband if we could please give the baby up for adoption because I didn’t think I could take care of her, but I have come to understand that this was me trying to let him know that something wasn’t right.

One day, I took The Tween, then aged 6, to the pool for swimming lessons. As I walked by the pool I suddenly had an image of the baby strapped in the car seat sinking slowly to the bottom of the pool. So I stepped far, far away from the edge and went home and called a friend. “I don’t know what to do,” I told her, “I don’t think I can keep this baby. Something is wrong with me.” To which she very graciously and calmly said, “Can you please put The Mr. on the phone?” She then proceeded to tell him that I had post partum depression and needed to go right away to the ER.

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In 2011, after our house flooded and a job situation was forcing us to move, I spiraled once again into another epic period of depression. I was once again put on medication. I was once again trying to survive, this time made harder because I was far away from any support network that I had built for myself. I was truly alone in every way imaginable.

It was during this time that my father and I had the only fight we have ever had during my adult years. “Just get out and do something,” he yelled,” choose to be happy.” But the truth is, one does not choose to be depressed so one cannot simply choose not to be depressed. Depression is not a matter of choice or will, it’s about body chemistry and hormones. It is an illness.

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No one would choose depression. I have lost days, months, and years to depression. I have lost precious moments with my children that I adore. I have lost friends. I have lost opportunities. Depression is a greedy monster that takes and takes and takes until there is nothing left to take.

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At the beginning of this summer, the girls and I moved into an empty apartment in Ohio with the hope that my husband would find a job so that we could move back, approximately, to the place that I have called home, the place where I felt loved and supported and whole. To the place where I was working a job I loved and am thriving. But the job market is tough and the beginning of the school year approaches and we can’t keep living in separate states. We want to be together as a family, we want – finally – to feel stable and secure and part of a nurturing, supportive community. We want our girls to be loved and mentored and supported and nurtured. We want them to feel a part of something bigger than just the four of us struggling to survive.

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A friend of mine the other day posted on her Facebook page that she doesn’t share her struggles to be judged or for advice, she shares to raise awareness, to erase stigmas, and to know that she is not alone. I share because I have to. Like her, I need to know that I’m not alone. I need to know that I am not alone in these moments of darkness.

And the truth is, knowing what I know now about depression and anxiety, there is a very strong likelihood that one or both of my children will inherit this tendency to depression and anxiety through genetics. Should this happen, I want them to live in a world where the stigma and shame has been erased. I want them to be able to go to their doctor, to reach out to their friends, and to ask for support when they need it because we now understand that mental health issues are just that – health issues. And I want them to be able to have the access to and the insurance coverage they need for the medical care they need to not just survive, but to thrive.

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On Saturday, the Fourth of July, I drove the girls and I to a friend’s house for a family celebration. This, I thought to myself, is what I want for my girls. This feeling of peace and love and tradition. The job and economic factors that work against families struggling to provide this are the subject of a future essay, or essays really. But in that moment of seeing all that we had lost, not just the things but the people, I began once again to have a panic attack. I know what they are now; I don’t go rushing to the hospital. They are a gripping moment of terror that seizes your brain and causes very real physical symptoms. My body shakes, it burns as if it is on fire, I gag, and I feel a sudden need to flee from an unknown danger. And I cry, a lot.

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It was the crying that made me realize I needed to tell her what was happening. I am by nature normally weepy. But there are times when I leak tears for days. This week has been one of those times. And underneath it all has been this general sense of anxiety. She’s almost a teenager now, she notices. I can see her noticing. So I tried to explain it to her as best I could.

“I sometimes suffer from periods of depression and anxiety. It’s a medical condition. It’s not your fault. It’s not your responsibility to take care of me or try and make me happy. Through it all I’m always loving you. Always. Your job is to be a kid and to be happy and to learn stuff and live your life. My job is to take care of you. I will never stop doing that.”

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Here’s another important truth about anxiety and depression. It makes you hard to love. And yet, sometimes, it is when you need love the most. Sometimes what you want more than anything is to know that someone cares, but you are physically unable to pick up the phone and ask for it. Part of it is the very real effects of the depression and anxiety: lethargy, physical exhaustion caused by the inability to sleep. And part of it is the very real psychological effects of the depression and anxiety: the fear, the shame, the stigma, and the feelings of loathing and self-doubt. Sometimes you try and fake it until you make it, sometimes you can’t even fake it.

And it is a misnomer to think that people suffering from depression and anxiety can’t work or work well, don’t keep a clean house, don’t take good care of their kids, etc. Just as no two people grieve in the same ways, no two people suffer from depression in the same ways. Work has always been the thing that I am best at and provides me the greatest amount of stability, fulfillment and engagement. This blog is another thing that provides me some of the tools I need in order to keep going forward on the days where I have felt like maybe I couldn’t. For others, that is not the case. We do not all love in the same way, we do not all grieve in the same way, and we do not all experience depression and anxiety in the same way.

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Photo by Heather Smith Lisenby

And, of course, I am anchored in part by my love for my husband and children. In the moments that I can, I choose to be strong because of them. In the moments that I can’t make that choice, I ask others to do it for me, asking them to love my girls and help provide them stability in the moments when I am laying in a cave of depression waiting for the sun to shine again.

And so far, the sun has always, eventually, shone again. Right now all I can do is hope that will be true once again.

Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Until then my eyes leak tears under the cloak of a dark cloud of despair that hangs over my head. Today, I am Eeyore. It is not by choice, so please don’t ask me to think positive or try harder. Instead, sit silently under that dark cloud with me and love me anyways.

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According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.

In addition, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and loved ones of many of our teens. We have a link to lists of book lists and resources here.

Medication, Depression, and I Was Here

Generally speaking, I save my rants for Twitter and not blogging. I try to be more measured and professional in blogging (or writing reviews in other places). That said, yesterday while reading Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, I had some thoughts of the ranting variety that I shared. You can see them in the Storify I made. The link for that is here—I’m having to improvise and paste the tweets in below because of formatting issues.  I am just sharing my thoughts, but you can go to my timeline to see more of the conversations happening if you’re interested.

 

 

  • 102 pages into I Was Here, considering skimming the rest. I’m bored. Assuming she starts hooking up w Ben soon & changing his bad boy ways.
  • Oh good–page 109: taking medicine for mental health issues = feeling nothing.
  • I’m going to keep reading bc some of the pals in my YA book group have messaged me about this book and I’m already wanting that discussion.
  • Oh good–referencing Brave New World and Soma. Is this the new thing to do? Neat.
  • It IS a fucking “act of bravery to feel yr feelings.” Thanks, medicine, for 19 yrs of letting me feel my feelings instead of constant panic
  • I’m medicated. Many of my closest friends are medicated. None of us got help until late teens or adulthood.
  • This medication as numbing agent/crutch/failure attitude is not new. But good god, someone help teens learn that this isn’t true.
  • You know why my own kid is medicated for anxiety? Because I won’t sit back and let him suffer when there are medicines that do SO MUCH GOOD
  • Cody should shove Ben out of the van. He’s a douche who thinks she should be flattered by “but yr not a girl… Not that kind.” Get bent.
  • Mostly I am just yelling at everyone in the last few pages of I Was Here.
  • Stigma. Saddled. Kept quiet. BOOK, I AM YELLING AT YOU.
  • I’m picturing Meg “resting” hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.
  • “I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.”–Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

Obviously the part that bothered me was the attitude toward taking medication for depression. I’ve talked about this issue before with Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye in my Sunday Reflections post, “Mental Health Medications Are Not Your Enemy.” Unlike in Hand’s book, Forman addresses this anti-medication attitude in an author’s note. She writes, “Thankfully, there are treatments, usually a mix of mood-stabilizing medications and therapy. Refusing treatment for depression or a mood disorder is akin to getting a pneumonia diagnosis and refusing to take antibiotics and go on bed rest.” I GREATLY appreciate that Forman includes this, and that she includes links for learning about warning signs and risk factors for suicide, as well as resources for helplines and websites. I do not think Forman is in any way saying that medication is indeed bad, but her character is, and her character is who we see. Will most readers go on to read the author’s note I quoted from? I always read them, but I’m not so sure everyone else does. Will that author’s note erase the damaging message that medications make you  “feel nothing”? Maybe I would not have gotten so bent out of shape if I hadn’t just weeks ago read the Hand book, which put forth these same ideas about “feeling nothing” and also likened medications to Soma from Brave New World. Can this please not be a new trend in YA lit? Because I don’t like it.

 

I want readers to really pay attention at the end of the book (SPOILERS COMING) where Meg’s parents confess to Cody (her best friend) that Meg suffered from depression and had since 10th grade. They put her on antidepressants. Meg improved on them and then wanted to go off of them. Her parents advised her otherwise, telling her depression is not “something that visits once and disappears.” She took medicine. It worked. While she was on it, it worked. But medicine doesn’t keep working if you stop taking it, which is what Meg did. So if she KNEW medications worked for her in the past, why didn’t she pursue them while at college? Why did she assume she would “feel nothing”?

 

To further compound my issues, this nearly final scene of the book, where Cody is talking to Meg’s parents, we learn that, yes, Meg suffered from depression. How did her best friend in the world not know? Well, Meg’s parents decided to keep it quiet. They worried about “saddling” her with the “stigma” of it in a small town. Her parents admit they thought what they were doing was the best thing–implying, I think, that they no longer think that hiding their daughter away and turning her depression into a shameful secret that she needs to keep even from her best friend was the best way to deal with it.

 

I want the takeaway from this book to be that Meg’s parents in fact did not deal with their daughter’s depression well. They got her help, which is wonderful, but they added to the stigma by insisting on keeping it quiet. I want the takeaway to be that when Meg was on medication, it worked, she was getting better, and it was worth being medicated. Instead of pretending to have mono and be holed away in her room, she was able to function again. Will those things be the takeaways? I don’t know.

 

I’m not the first or only person to take issue with how depression and medication is presented in this book (or in recent books in general). I urge you to go read Liz Anderson’s review of I Was Here, which spawned some fantastic conversations on Twitter this morning about mental health, therapy, and medications. There were many, MANY voices adding their thoughts. I suggest checking out this morning’s tweets from  @catagator, @CarrieMesrobian, @CoreyAnnHaydu@aswatki1, @bibliogato, @lizpatanders, and @amydieg. This post is definitely more rant-based than an actual review, but the book helped bring on some fantastic conversations about these issues and I’m grateful for everyone on Twitter who is talking so honestly about mental health treatment. We need to keep having these conversations, whether in reaction to things we didn’t like in books or not, not just on Twitter, but everywhere.

 

For further thoughts on depression, anxiety, medication, and lit, check out the links below. Know of more posts on these topics? PLEASE share them with us in the comments–I’ll update the link list as we find more. 

Alex Townsend’s review of All The Bright Places on Disability in Kidlit 

Liz Anderson at Consumed By Books review of I Was Here

Reading, Depression, and Me by Kelly Jensen at Book Riot

Maggie Tiede’s “Popping Pills: Mental Illness Medications in YA and Why They Matter” at Disability in Kidlit. 

Cindy L. Rodriguez’s “Depression in YA and the Latin@ Community” on Latin@s in Kid Lit. 

 

Have thoughts on this book or this topic? Please leave us a comment. We value your opinions and input. 

O Captain, My Captain: In which I mourn the loss of a childhood hero and discuss depression and suicide

Last night I came home from working at my library with a DVD in hand to watch with my family. It was 10 o’clock, but it’s one of our last few nights where we can stay up late so I went to slip it in. As the DVD player opened, a movie sat inside of it. That movie was A Night at the Museum. It’s not surprising that it was in there, it is one of the girls favorite movies. I have seen it a lot, glancing at it over their shoulders as I look up from the pages of the book I am reading. It brings them so much joy.

A few weeks ago, I decided The Tween was finally ready to watch Dead Poet’s Society with me. One of my favorite movies. Ever. In the end, when Neil Perry takes his life, The Tween began sobbing. What is he doing she asked? Why? So we had a conversation, about how it might feel to have no hope. About what it was like to be stuck in a place of such utter darkness that you couldn’t imagine a future anymore that didn’t involve despair.

When I first moved from Ohio to Texas, one of the teens from my hometown took his life. I found out when one of my favorite teens, a teen from my previous library that I keep in contact with (he’s an adult now, it’s okay), broke out in despair on Facebook. Just the year before, another individual that I worked with at the local public radio station had taken his own life. And just a few month’s later, the neighbor of a friend, the father of a teen I knew well from my previous library, attempted to take his life. He failed, but he put a bullet in his brain that caused severe damage that changed the landscape of all their lives. These past few years I have seen far too many people take or attempt to take their lives and the statistics indicate that suicide rates are indeed rising.


I cried yesterday at work when I saw the news about Robin Williams. I cried because Robin Williams is such a familiar face from the landscape of my life. I grew up watching Mork and Mindy. The Mr. and I saw Aladdin on one of our early dates. My kids watch A Night at the Museum the way I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, over and over and over again.

I cried because I understood all too well what darkness and the absence of hope feels like. When I miscarried my second baby, the only thing that got me out of bed each day was the knowledge that I had to find a way to take care of The Tween, who was only four at the time. There were times where it felt physically impossible to even lift my limbs.

I cried because I knew the long term ache that this kind of loss leaves in the hearts of all those that love someone who takes their own life. I have friends who speak often of the devastating guilt and overwhelming loss that the suicide of a loved one has left on their families, on them. But suicide is not a selfish act, it is a desperate act. It is the act of someone who has no reason to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, they can’t even imagine that there is an end to the tunnel. There is at times nothing but this tunnel, this dark, overwhelming tunnel that lies and whispers that suicide is the only way to end both the very real mental and physical pain.

I cried because I know how hard it can be to admit that you are struggling with depression in a world that still stigmatizes it; a world that still tells you to think positive thoughts or suggests that even just forcing yourself to turn your frown upside down into a smile can change your mood. And with all the discussions we have been having recently about mental health in the United States, it is still hard to get any let alone enough medical insurance to cover effective mental health treatment.

Depression is an illness. It is not a character flaw. It is not someone just not trying hard enough or having a pessimistic attitude. It is not someone having a lack of faith, as a Christian friend of mine often expressed. It is not karmic retribution. It is real and it is a daily battle for those who struggle with this disease.

1 in 12 teens suffers from depression. Mental Health America suggests that 1 in 5 teens may suffer from clinical depression. And some of the others, their families are affected by depression as a parent or a sibling wrestles with the disease and it impacts them all. Know who to refer the teens in your area to for help. Know that the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Come this fall, I will take my girls to the movies to see the latest installment of A Night at the Museum, and I will cry. I will cry because it looks like another person lost their fight against the darkness that is depression. I will cry because that little alien from an egg that brought me so much joy in my childhood is no longer around to say Nanoo Nanoo. And I will cry  every time I open my favorite book of poetry and see O’ Captain, My Captain.

By all accounts, Robin Williams probably had the means to get good health care to help fight his depression, and yet it appears he still lost the battle. I can’t help but think of all those who don’t have access to health care or insurance. All those who come from broken homes and may not have someone to call in their worst moments. Or all those who live among people who don’t understand what depression is so they can’t get the help that they need. We have to do more to de-stigmatize depression and help people get access to the resources they need to fight this disease. I’m tired of these tears, let’s do something different in the fight against depression. 

Mental Health Resources 
13 Reasons Why: Teens and Suicide
One Day is Not Enough 

List of Lists: Teens and Mental Health Resources

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.

In addition, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and love ones of many of our teens.

Mental health issues are an important issue for teens. Reading stories about characters with mental health disorders can help teens understand their parents, their friends, or their selves. It can give them hope. It can affirm and validate their experiences. Below are links to several lists of YA titles that deal with mental health issues in some way.

A Variety of YA Lit Book Lists

Stephanie Khuen: YA Highway
Kuehn presents a very comprehensive reading list of YA lit titles broken down by various subjects and issues including anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, thought disorders and impulse control. The list isn’t annotated, but it does link back to the Goodreads page for a description and publisher information.

Adventures of Lit Girl
This page presents a list of mostly YA titles, there are a few adult titles, broken down by various issues. Only covers are presented, you have to click through to the Goodreads page to get the book description and publisher information.

We’re All Made Here: Mental Illness in YA Fiction
Bitch Magazine discusses some of the issues in titles in a brief article.

Can Teen Fiction Explain Mental Illness to My Daughter?
The Guardian presents a good article about teens navigating personal and family mental illness and discusses how YA fiction can help teens in these situations.

Reach Out Reads
In 2011, Inspire USA released a short list of titles called Reach Out Reads. These titles deal with a variety of mental health topics including bullying in schizophrenia. There is only one title for each topic.

For Statistics, Facts and Resources, Check Out These Resources

Teen Mental Health
 A pretty comprehensive site

Healthy Children
An article on watching for danger signs

Office of Adolescent Health 
Another comprehensive site that looks at adolescent mental health issues.

Children of Parents with Mental Illness
Help for children who have parents that suffer from a mental illness.

From Risk to Resilience: Support for Children whose Parents Have Mental Illness
Help for children who have parents that suffer from a mental illness.

Teen Issues at TLT
We have a variety of posts that talk about a variety of teen issues, including addiction, body image, and mental health.

Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)

Because this is one of the best posts ever about aliteracy, and by an amazing friend of mine, we are re-running it today for Reluctant Readers week
This post originally appeared on TLT on December 20, 2012

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” –From Wonder by RJ Palacio

I spent Friday, December 14, 2012, with all 757 students of my school in our first annual Polar Express day in the library. This is what I posted as my Facebook status after hearing the gut-wrenching news of the Connecticutshootings:

In light of the horrific events in CT today, I am reluctant to share this post. But I want you all to know that in an elementary school in Mesquite, TX, there was JOY today. We had 38 classes listen to The Polar Express and served 807 cups of hot chocolate. Smiles, joy, and gratitude swirled around my heart today, and I don’t feel guilty for these blessings. My fellow educators & parents, we must continue to teach and love our children with passion & joy & energy. When we live in fear, evil wins. Don’t let evil win.

One of my best days as an educator is juxtaposed with one of the worst days in our nation’s recent history. That incongruity does not go unnoticed.  


As an elementary school librarian, I cannot wrap my brain around this inexplicable tragedy. As a mother, I cannot fathom the grief and loss of these parents. Like so many of us, I feel powerless. I just want to DO something for our hurting world. In the face of horrific tragedies, I try not to ask “why?”  I don’t think we are capable of truly understanding such an evil act. Instead, I try to ask “HOW?” How can I be a better person in my little corner of the universe? How can I make a difference in someone’s life? How can I be a light in the darkness?

Amianne Bailey is a School Librarian
This is her Red Reading Chair

While countless people take to Twitter and fire off on Facebook, admonishing our country’s gun laws, mental health system, and absence of God in our public schools as reasons for the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I cringe. I cringe at our knee-jerk quickness to cast blame. I shudder at our self-righteous reaction to always look for a reason. Why can’t we mourn the loss of so many innocent lives and reach out to one another with love? Why can’t we step into the shoes of these grieving, hurting families and understand that they do not need reasons right now; they need our prayers; they need our compassion; they need our support.

The events of 2012 made me keenly aware of our society’s lack of compassion. From the Chic-Fil-A debacle to the embittered election, it seems that everyone wants to scream their opinion without giving much thought to how it will fall on the hearts of others. And it hasn’t even been ONE WEEK since the horrific killings in Connecticut, and people are already blasting theories and accusations via social media. The great irony is that in a world more connected than ever through the power of technology, we are truly disconnected from the hearts of humanity.

As a librarian, I can’t help but wonder–if we were a nation of readers, would our actions and our reactions be a bit kinder—a bit gentler?  Rather than condemn would we comfort? Rather than hurl opinions would we try to heal the hurt? Rather than spew hatred would we extend a hand in hope?

Honestly, my book-loving mind can’t help but connect our society’s lack of empathy to the fact that we are an alliterate nation. So many people can read, but they simply choose not to. Before you blow me off as some smug librarian, let me state my case. Like any librarian worth her weight in books, I have evidence to support my opinion.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Not Illiteracy, but Aliteracy
I recently read several articles that cite studies to support that “reading fiction improves understanding of others,” (The Guardian). An article in Forbes also points to a study that shows “reading fiction actually increases people’s emotional intelligence: their accurate awareness of themselves and others, and their ability to create positive relationships with others based on managing their own reactions” (Forbes). In “The Importance of Reading for All of Us”, Anna Leahy states, “When we read about fictional characters, we become better at understanding real people and real situations” (HuffPost). So reading not only benefits our brains, it is also good for our hearts.
aliteracy – when a person has the skills necessary for reading, but chooses not to

Over the years, I have read the works of JimTrelease, Kelly Gallagher, and Stephen Layne concerning the problem of aliteracy in our nation, and I can’t help but wonder if our lack of empathy is tied to our lack of a reading habit?

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

Some of you might view this as hypocritical because I am just another voice entering the fray. I am not trying to blame our lack of reading culture for this senseless act. I am not naïve enough to suggest that reading more books would have prevented this tragedy from happening. I am not searching for a reason; I am offering an important observation–reading fiction makes us more aware and sensitive to the feelings of others. And I think we can all agree that our world needs kinder, more compassionate people in it. Even though it might sound trite, I think reading fiction can help us become a more empathetic, caring nation– to see past ourselves and into the hearts of others.

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
Joyce Carol Oates

With the new year approaching, let’s all make a pledge to turn off our computers and tvs and read more fiction. What can that hurt? I am a firm believer that there is a book out there for every person. If you dislike reading, it’s because you haven’t found the right book. And as a self-proclaimed book-pusher, I want to make a recommendation—Wonder by RJ Palacio. It’s truly a book for every age and gender, and it would be PERFECT to read aloud to your children at bedtime. (The importance of the bedtime reading ritual is another post for another day.) This book can teach us all so much about what it truly means to consider things from someone else’s point of view; what it means to “be kinder than necessary.”

Yes, I am suggesting that books can change us. Why do you think Hitler burned books? Why do you think the Taliban fought to the death to prevent books from falling into the hands of the citizens of Afghanistan? It’s because books have the power to soften hearts, to open minds, to silence judgment. They have the power to increase empathy for our fellow human beings. And I think that our world could use more softened hearts and open minds and less judgment and blame.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Mortimer Jerome Adler

Here we are, a nation that enjoys the freedom to read and has access to books in every city, yet so many choose not to take advantage of this life-changing gift. That’s another irony that I can’t ignore.

As a life-long reader, I turn to books for escape. I turn to books for comfort. I turn to books to connect with the human race. If there ever was a time for Americans to turn to books, it is now.
“We read to know that we are not alone.”
Amianne suggests Wonder as a good place to start reading and working on developing empathy.  What other titles would you recommend? Leave us a note in the comments.
Read more from Amianne Bailey:
You can also read my thoughts on last week’s events and mental health:
Read YA author Sean Beaudoin’s post about Newtown at Salon.com:
Also, please read these amazong posts from YA author Robison Wells who talks about his struggles with mental health issues:
While I don’t think there is any immediate answer to the problem, and no one single cause, I like Amianne’s answer . . . let’s read more.  Let’s step into the shoes of another person through the pages of a book and learn to open our hearts.  Let’s choose kindness.