Mental illness is still something that is widely stigmatized by society, especially in the United States. People often trivialize mental illness as something that can easily be gotten over with some exercise, proper sleep, and a good dose of nature (like this widely used meme). While these ideas are generally used for all mental illnesses, one of the ones most often considered to be "cured" by these is depression. Most people understand depression as just an inherent sadness all the time, but it is really much more than that.
Depression, or major depressive disorder, at its core causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. It can lead to changes in appetite, troubles sleeping or sleeping too much, increased fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty thinking or concentrating, and even thoughts of suicide or death. Novels that accurately portray these feelings, instead of just feelings of sadness, create mirrors and windows for those to understand the true effects of depression.
Since October is considered Depression Awareness Month, I came up with a list of books that I think have some of the most realistic portrayals of depression. Realistic portrayals in literature help to combat the negative stigma that is presented in the media, and also helps to show readers that they aren't alone.
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Vizzini nails what it's like to be checked in to a mental hospital in this novel, not to mention he gives readers a positive portrayal of someone taking action in order to save their own life. Vizzini himself struggled with depression, and though his story didn't end happily, his works exist to hopefully inspire others and show them that they are not alone.
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This book deals with a variety of real-life issues, depression just being one of them. Charlie, and his fellow cast of characters, deal with their problems in a realistic way, and eventually end up getting help. This book will always hold a special place in my heart, and I think it's inspiring for a lot of people.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This book features two teens that are struggling with suicidal thoughts, using each other to pull themselves out of their darkness. The characters in this book are what make it so successful, pulling the reader's quickly into their stories and showing that reaching out to someone might just save your life.
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Told in letters much like Perks of Being a Wallflower, Laurel deals with her issues through writing letters to famous people. Her act of writing is somewhat therapeutic for her, showing readers that there are many different ways to work through their emotions.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
This book features James going into therapy to help work through his depression, something not really depicted in the books listed here (except for It's Kind of a Funny Story). Through his therapy sessions, we are able to learn more about his life and what finally drove him to get help.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to realistic portrayals of depression in young adult literature; for more resources, I would check out this list from Buzzfeed and this list from Goodreads. I do think we're at a period of time where young adult literature is becoming stronger than ever, and I'm so happy to be able to read all of these fantastic books are being created.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, seek out these resources and know that you are never alone.
The Trevor Project
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention