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Sunday Reflections: The Kids are Not Alright, Alright, Alright


Last Sunday night, with a house full of teens, my email alert dinged. The prinicpal was sending out an alert to parents letting them know that our high school population had experienced a recent loss and that extra counselors would be available the following morning. What it did not tell parents, but all the teens in my home seemed to already know, was that a young man had died that Friday night by suicide. In fact, the teens informed me, no fewer than four teens had died in our surrounding and nearby community over the weekend by suicide and teens were talking about it on social media. The teens knew far more than any adults did, and far earlier.

Just a few months before, a young man died in the house next door to mine from a drug overdose. Again, teens talked about this on social media. There was a lot of discussion in the days and weeks that followed about how this young man had been struggling with mental health issues and had used substances to help self medicate and calm his troubled mind because he did not have access to the resources he needed to handle his medical crisis in healthy ways. There was a lot of angry among the teens in my life about how adults were failing them when it came to issues of mental health. That theme came up again over the course of the last week as teens talked about and processed what it meant to have another one of their friends die because of mental health issues.

There are several things I’ve thought about in the last few days and months regarding teens and mental health. These teens are right, we, as adults, are failing our youth when it comes to issues of mental health.

Teens have access to this information in ways that they never have before and it is both a blessing and a curse. In many ways, the stigma against mental health is being eradicated and teens are openly talking about the very issues that generations before them had to deal with in secret. Teens today know that they aren’t alone; that their friends, neighbors and school mates are struggling. There is a lot of good that comes from feeling seen, feeling understood, and feeling supported. There is a lot of good that comes from bringing mental health issues, one kept in the dark, into the light. I am glad that these discussions are happening, though I sometimes worried about how those discussions are happening without a lot of adult assistance. Whether we want them to or not, teens are having meaningful discussions about serious issues and if we don’t engage them, they are often having them without meaningful support or resources.

I have often read that psychologists caution that adults be careful about how they talk about the issue of suicide, as teens can be more susceptible to this issue. It is one of the reasons that many psychologists, educators and parents bristled and cautioned about the way that mental health issues and the topic of suicide are presented in the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. And there is evidence to suggest that the debut of 13 Reasons Why has correlated with an increase in the number of teens attempting or completing suicide. This does not, however, mean that we shouldn’t talk with teens about suicide. In fact, many psychologists suggest that it is important to talk openly with teens about suicide, especially if you are a parent.

Many articles of late discuss the fact that our teens seem to be struggling more than ever with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Our kids today are not, in fact, alright. Suicide rates among teens have been increasing at an “alarming pace” according to recent reports. And many psychologists warn that social media may be a possible contributing factor. As are a rise in the number of incidents of bullying, increased academic pressure, and the growing number of families struggling financially.

I am not a psychologist so I am by no means in a position to talk about this issue. I am, however, a parent with my own mental health issues (depression, anxiety, sometimes panic attacks and some suicidal ideation in the past) raising two kids with a tendency towards anxiety. I have also worked with teens for the past 26 years. Without a doubt I have experienced more teen death in the last five years than I did my first twenty-five years working with teens. I find this fact alarming. I have also spent a lot of time recently diving more deeply into the concept of trauma informed librarianship and vicarious trauma.

The reach of social media is also profoundly more far reaching. These teens in my home weren’t just talking about one death, but they were now talking about four deaths of their peers in the surrounding area. That’s a lot to process. Many of these teens have their own mental health struggles that they wrestle with and they worried whether or not they would be able to cope with this knowledge. Social media means that these teens have more information, on a much larger scale, and far more quickly. These teens weren’t just processing one death, they were processing four. It made a huge difference.

As an adult who cares about and advocates for teens, I honestly didn’t and don’t know what to do. The truth is, I am not qualified or equipped to deal with a mental health crisis of this nature. Not many of us are. But the teens in our lives need us to help them navigate in these moments.

So the next day, I went to work and emailed everyone in my system that works with youth and let them know about the chatter on social media so that they would have a heads up if the overheard the youth in our libraries talking about these issues. I sent them links to local resources that help our youth in mental health crisis. I sent them a link to a poster that they could put up in their library so that teens could contact someone confidentially. It’s not a lot, barely anything, but it’s something. And something is always better than nothing. NAMI is a great starting place for information on teens and mental health.

The most important thing that I did is that I contacted every teen I know in my personal life – because I am the parent of a teen and active in my church I have some teen contacts – and let them know that I was here if they needed to talk. I told them that I loved them, that I supported them, and that I believed in them. It is no magical cure for mental health issues, but again, knowing that there is someone in your life who supports you unconditionally can make a difference.

It is important that we know and understand that mental health issues are real. That they are medical issues. We need to continue to work together to end the stigma, to provide better medical coverage for mental health issues, and that we work together or provide more affordable health care so that every person in crisis can get the medical interventions that they need to live healthy, productive and meaningful lives. Although mental health can be an extremely personal issue, it isn’t an isolated issue because the costs of mental illness are real, global and growing. The opioid crisis, for example, costs the United States billions of dollars and millions of lives.

If you are not aware of the growing mental health crisis among our youth, I beg of you to please take some time reading about it online. If you care about youth, any youth, please become informed of the signs to look for and local resources in your area to refer teens to. If you work in a library, please make sure your staff has training, a clearly laid out policy and plan of action, and that your staff knows that you will support them if they ever need to intervene in a moment of crisis. Be proactive regarding this issue, not reactive. Your staff need to know what to do in case of an emergency. Please consult with your local mental health and legal experts while you approach this work so that your library is adopting best practices and having the appropriate conversations.

Last week, as I was wrestling with my own issues regarding this issue, another teen librarian contacted me personally to let me know that one of their teens had handed them a suicide note in her library. Although I have worked with and talked to many teens in crisis, nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I thought about the overwhelming emotional burden that this librarian, my friend, now found themselves in. Help was contacted and appropriate steps were taken to keep this teen safe, but I know that this librarian will spend the rest of their life dealing with this moment. I hope it will be the only one like it for them.

When our youth are in crisis, we all are in crisis. Nothing happens in isolation. We are all connected and we all have a responsibility to create the best world that we can for our youth, for each other, and for ourselves. Evidence suggests that we are failing and that has immediate and far reaching consequences. We won’t know the full impact until far into the future. We will see the effects for decades to come. It’s our responsibility to do what we can now to help our youth not only survive this world we are making for them, but to thrive. I’m here to tell you, we’re doing it wrong.

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



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.


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.


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.






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.







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.


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.


“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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Reading Lists: Schizophrenia, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis


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


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


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

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.

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.

Book Review: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Just when you thought Egmont Week was over….. one more review from their fall catalog!

The writing pair behind Notes from the Blender, a great bit of realistic fiction about the complications and joys of becoming, through no effort of your own, part of a blended family during high school, is back for another novel with a shared narration.  Emmy and Justin alternate chapters, detailing the daily grind of life at Heartland Academy, a school and treatment facility for teens who are… well, a really awesome mess.

I really enjoyed Notes from the Blender and the interplay between Cook and Halpin’s voices and perspectives.  The same technique is used here, and though the book is definitely enjoyable, I didn’t feel the same “zing” as in their previous collaboration, perhaps because there’s less humor in the subject matter, and perhaps because both characters need to focus inward so much more because of their situations.

Emmy, adopted as a baby from China by a Caucasian American family (who had a biological child just a few months after the adoption was final) struggles with an eating disorder and her feelings of abandonment and otherness, in addition to her anger over an incident of cyberbullying and sexual harassment at her previous school.  Justin claims he wasn’t really trying to kill himself when he took a bunch of Tylenol, but in combination with some inappropriate sexual behavior, the cry for help was heard loud and clear and he lands in Heartland too.

As Emmy and Justin learn the ins and outs of institutional life and get to know their roommates and groupmates, they begin to let down their guard enough to accept help and friendship when it is offered them.  Each finally admits that they have some issues that they need to work on, and begins to see their life before Heartland in a different way.

The cast of supporting characters is certainly interesting, and as you might expect from a book whose peer group of focus is a therapy group, each has a backstory and complexity that is slowly revealed.  There’s a sideplot regarding a pig, which seemed a little contrived and stretched the walls of believability, but certainly broke this book away from the realm of predictable and lightened the mood significantly, buoying it on toward the happy conclusion.

The promise of hope and healing is strong here.  Put this on your list of books for teens with “issues”, recommend it to those who might like other books about teens struggling with mental health issues but might want something a little lighter.  This book is more about the process of understanding that a problem exists than delving deeply into the complexity of one specific disorder as is done in Wintergirls or Cut.  Keep in mind that though there’s lots of talk of sex, there isn’t actually much physical contact at all between the main characters, whose relationship builds slowly after many fits and starts, and progresses in a really mature way with self-awareness and good sense.

Booklist (July 1, 2013) says, “The bawdy, witty, and sarcastic style balances out the intense therapy discourse and the pensive self-reflection found elsewhere in this irreverent take on mental health, recovery, and wellness.” – Jones, Courtney.

A Really Awesome Mess by Tish Cook and Brendan Halpin.  Published July 23 by Egmont USA.  ISBN: 9781606843642.

More on Body Image and Eating Disorders in YA Lit at TLT
Body Image and Eating Disorders
Top 10 teen titles dealing with body image and eating disorders
The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset; a story about scoliosis and eating disorders
Sex Sells, but what are we selling?
Let’s Hear it for the Boys 
Pop Culture and Body Image Issues for Gay Teens, a guest post 
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions from a recovering anorexic

Teen Obesity and Body Image:
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Conner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
Today is Love Your Body Day
The Effects of Pop Culture on the Body Image of GLBT Teens
Body Image and Weight Loss 
Sex Sells, but what are we selling? Pop culture and body image issues in tweens and teens 
Take a Second Look: Books that encourage teens to look beyond body image 
Abercrombie and Fitch, Brave and Body Image: Part 1 and Part 2   

Book Review: Notes from Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

They say first love never dies…

From critically acclaimed author Kate Ellison comes a heartbreaking mystery of mental illness, unspoken love, and murder. When sixteen-year-old artist Olivia Tithe is visited by the ghost of her first love, Lucas Stern, it’s only through scattered images and notes left behind that she can unravel the mystery of his death.

There’s a catch: Olivia has gone colorblind, and there’s a good chance she’s losing her mind completely—just like her mother did. How else to explain seeing (and falling in love all over again with) someone who isn’t really there?

With the murder trial looming just nine days away, Olivia must follow her heart to the truth, no matter how painful. It’s the only way she can save herself.” (Summary from Goodreads)

Music, art, mental illnes, first love . . . they all come together beautifully in this haunting mystery.

Kate Ellison is the author of The Butterfly Clues, another haunting mystery that looks at the world of OCD with an artistic flair that is hard to describe, but is mesmerizing.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  And Ellison does it again in this new mystery, Notes from Ghost Town.

With only a few days left until her mother’s trial for murder, Olivia (Liv), is visited by the ghost of her best friend and first love, Lucas – the boy they say her mother has killed.  The ghost of Lucas leads her to make a chain of discoveries that may prove that her mother is innocent of this crime, but she is by no means in good mental health.  In fact, even she doesn’t know if she is guilty or not.

An aspiring artist, Olivia finds herself suddenly and inexplicably color blind.  Now she can only see the world in shades of gray.  Does this mean that she will finally descend into the madness that has always haunted her mother?

Notes from Ghost Town is powerful, emotional, and haunting; a touch of Jane Eyre gothic romanticism wafts from page to page as Liv follows the ghost of her first love.  There is a slow build up of tension and then that snap of release as you begin to realize just exactly what happened, and by whom.  There is heartbreak and betrayal.

Where Ellison exceeds, hands down, is in her continued look at mental health issues. It is no small feat to capture what it is like to grow up under the wing of a mentally ill parent and to make the fear that you yourself may be afflicted so incredibly tangible – which Ellison does more successfully than most.  And when Liv loses her ability to see colors, you sense her fear and desperation; it would be to use like becoming suddenly blind or deaf.  If she can no longer do art, then who really is she?  There is such a loss of sense of self that occurs here, palpable and relatable.

Liv is not an easy character to like at times, and she makes a lot of self defeating decisions, especially when it comes to her loss of color sight.  But then it is important to remember that she is in a place of breathtaking fear, both about who she is as a person and what is happening with her mother.  It would be such an overwhelming place to be emotionally.  She develops another relationship with a young man named Austin that is at times hard to embrace, but he plays a critical role in our tale.

Ellison also excels at her sense of timing.  It is just as the two young friends are about to confess their love that Lucas is gone, it is just as she is about to go to college to pursue her art, it is always just as . . . at the most critical moment, the most critical things happen and compel the story forward in interesting and satisfying ways.  Although the timing of individual elements was precise, some of the pacing slows down at points.  Not enough to make you close the book, but enough to make you want for something to happen at times.  Yet at the same time, it is part of that gothic romanticism feel that our tale is wrapped up in so it is hard to be overly critical of this element.

Overall, an intelligent, beautiful and haunting mystery.  3.5 out of 5 stars, definitely recommended.  Definitely pair this up with The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee.

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

Like many of you, the events of Friday, December 12th has me thinking and reflecting on the world that we live in.  It also has me thinking about my kids, not just the kids that I have given birth to – but to every kid I have loved along the way as a librarian, because they become a part of your life.  This weekend I have spent a lot of time thinking about mental health and the ways in which we view it in our world today and the ways in which we fail the most vulnerable among us.  These are my thoughts.

Act I
A while ago, during a time of transition in my life, my family and I had the opportunity to stay with another couple.  The man in this story wore a gun on his hip – all. the. time.  We could all be sitting in the living room on the couch and the gun would be there.  At the time, my children were 2 and 8.  It soon became clear that having us around was causing this man to unravel, and the situation escalated, slowly at first and rapidly towards the end.  His behavior became increasingly erratic and disturbing, at times outright threatening. 

At one point, I walked into the living room to see him showing a large hunting knife to my 2 year old. “This is a cool toy,” he told my 2-year-old. “I am going to set it right here on this coffee table for you to play with.” I grabbed my child and we left the house.  I wrestled with what I had seen, who says those kinds of things to a small child?

As his behavior continued to unravel, he began playing what he thought was a funny joke: he would use the automatic garage door opener to open the garage, pull out his gun, and pretend that someone was breaking in. 

On our final night there, there was an incident involving my children in the bathroom.  They had locked themselves in for privacy, the 2-year-old followed the 8-year-old everywhere, and they became upset that the 2-year-old was in the bathroom – why? what was she doing? The man slammed down the footrest of his chair and bellowed, “I’ll get them out of that goddamn bathroom.”  At the exact same moment my girls opened the door, I grabbed them, and we fled the house.  I don’t know how he intended to get them out of the bathroom, but the environment had grown menacing enough of the last two weeks that I feared him.  The night before I had laid in bed and wondered: if he finally snaps and pulls his gun, do I tell the girls to hide in the closet or try and unlock the front door and flee.  We packed our things and left.

Act II
But, let’s take a moment and step into my time machine, shall we?  My sophomore year in high school we were given a reading assignment: we had to check out and read a nonfiction book.  Like most teens, I found my book by browsing the shelves.  It was titled The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady (by Brian Kates) and it at least sounded interesting.  I mean, it had murder in the title.  It would turn out to be my most profound reading experience ever, one I still think of to this day.

The Murder of a Shopping Bag lady began as a simple investigation by a reporter into the murder of a Jane Doe.  It quickly became, however, an interesting look at our nation’s mental health system, our homelessness problem, and the way that legislation fails to protect the most vulnerable among us.  Because we value our freedoms so fiercely, many of our most unfunctioning – but not an immediate threat – are left to wander the streets without homes, adequate access to health care, and the accountability they often need to stay on their medications.  It can be a delicate balance trying to balance individual freedoms with mental health issues.  Sometimes, we fail.

Here I was at the tender age of 15, gaining an understanding of the world I saw around me.  I hadn’t yet seen a lot of mental illness first hand in my life, but growing up in Southern California I had seen my fair share of homeless people.  This book would help me develop an understanding and an empathy that I would need throughout my adult years, both personally and professionally.

One of my library positions involved working daily with a library patron who had severe mental health issues.  Some days, she would even come in walking different, using a different voice, and a different name.  Like the living situation mentioned above, it was often nerve wracking, terrifying, stressful.  Although we had a clear understanding that there were elements going on in this individual’s life that she could not control, we also had a clear understanding that we were in no way prepared to deal with the daily onslaught that came from trying to negotiate our interactions with her.  Although it was known that she had mental health issues, she was also an independent adult and her rights to privacy meant that was no one we could contact to help us understand and navigate the situation.  We asked for and received training on dealing with difficult patrons, but even that can’t help prepare you when a patron comes flying out of the stacks and asks if you were calling her a bitch, or to print out the information the patron requested just to watch her tear it up and ask you to print it out again because she really needs it, or what to do when she is threatening other patrons.

She was eventually moved after they found her walking down the middle of the street in the middle of a snowy, winter night wearing a t-shirt and shorts.  It was in many ways a relief not to have the daily stress at work, but I often wonder how she is doing and wish her nothing but health and well being.

While it is undeniably true that not all mentally ill individuals will become violent, it is also true that significant violence is perpetrated by those who are mentally ill.  The other truth is that you never know if and when ANYONE around you will snap, although you often at least consider the possibility when you are dealing with mentally ill individuals who have threatening or aggressive tendencies.  Many of us in libraries have been in those situations that produced this fear in us.

Because of the nature of public libraries, we spend a lot of time interacting with a wide variety of mental illness.  I have had teens come to library programs with companions who were there to help the teen navigate the situation.  I have seen families come to family programs only to witness one parent taking one of the children home soon into the program.  And we have all had to navigate those delicate desk interactions or behavior issues.  We always do the best that we can with the knowledge we have given the parameters of our library policies.

But the truth is, there is inadequate training for those who work in the public in knowing how to navigate these delicate situations.  In fact, many libraries probably haven’t had this training at all, and they should.

I would also argue that we do a really poor job in our country of addressing the needs of those with mental illness and their caregivers.  I know several families who have children on the Autism spectrum and their lives are very different from yours and mine.  They spend a great amount of time and money on therapies (which are often inadequate because they are not covered by insurance), many of them are locked tightly in their homes because ASD children have a propensity to not understand danger to self and flee, and they are isolated and alone in a world where complete strangers will walk up to them and say, “If I were you I would bend that kid over my knee and spank them.” – which is actually not helpful in these situations.  (And before you flame me, yes I do know that there are many people who say Autism is not mental illness, but that doesn’t change the reality of the lives that some parents are living with children on the extreme end of the spectrum. Also, Autism has a high co-morbidity of other mental health issues like OCD, bi-polar disorder, etc.)

As someone who works with our youth, I have seen them struggle with mental health issues, whether it be their own or someone else’s in their home.  I recall growing up in a home where during one family fight someone said, “well I’ll just go get a gun and kill us all.”  As people who care about our nation, our youth, we need to be talking about mental health issues. And we need to be doing more for the most vulnerable among us.  While many in the media are arguing that we have failed our children with our gun laws, we are failing far more of them with the way we stigmatise mental health issues and fail to provide proper medical treatment and coverage so they or their parents don’t get adequate treatment.  We need to start talking about mental health.

For an excellent look at mental health issues, please read Robison Well’s post How Mental Illness Tried and Failed to Ruin My Life.  You can also read his excellent post entitled How Close Are We to More Killings?
And for a good look at some teen titles that accurately reflect life with mental illness, check out this booklist.

If you can get your hands on a copy of the book, I really recommend it. A lot of the statistics will be out of date, but the insight is still relevant and powerful.