Using Books to Learn and Cope with Mental Illness

Maybe you’re a bookworm. Maybe you have “reading more” as one of your plans for the summer. Maybe you read as a hobby and use it as a form of stress relief when you need a break from school and/or work. Whatever the reason, you may be on the lookout for something new to read.

Everyone reads for their own personal reasons – some use it as a complete distraction from the world while others use it as a way to learn more about the world. Some use it as a way to learn more about themselves, like through self-help books and other nonfiction works. Fictional novels can also serve the same purpose, where reading and finding characters that you relate to can help you understand yourself better. You may even find characters that you want to be more like.

The practice of finding, reading, and using books with content that can relate to you and help you understand yourself better, grow, and cope without having to focus just on yourself is known as bibliotherapy. If you’re not ready to specifically talk about your own experiences in issues that may be taking their toll on you, reading books about characters who look like you and/or go through similar experiences can help you use their thoughts, actions, and stories as a way to untangle your own thoughts a little more. It can even help you open up more to others because the characters may have given you a way to put words to what you’re going through.

As discussions about mental health and mental illness has increased, the amount of content about it has increased as well, including in novels about the topic. Everyone’s tastes are different, but we wanted to highlight a few lists highlighting YA books that have mental illness involved in some way, whether minimal or as part of the core plot. Although there is some overlap between the lists, all of them feature a variety of topics involved in mental health, including suicide, depression, phobias, anxiety, PTSD, and grief.

We hope that you can find one that either interests you or relates to you in some way. If you decide to read any of them, we invite you to write a review about how you felt about the book, if you related to it, and how you think the story depicted mental illness.

What’s your favorite book? Have you ever read a book that involved mental illness in some way? How do you think the author did in depicting it? What topics do you want to see covered more in books, especially those targeted for young adults?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: We look forward to talking to you!

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