October is Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa, yet, mental health and the issues that surround it are still considered taboo topics. Literature often discusses mental illness in an unflinching way that is also palatable and easy to understand. Here are a few books that discuss the topic in order to break the stigma:
The Quiet Violence of Dreams- K. Sello Duiker
Mental health issues dealt with: mental institutions, psychosis. This novel was first published in 2001 but has become somewhat of a contemporary classic since. The novel focuses on protagonist Tshepo, who is a student at Rhodes, who eventually ends up in a mental institution because of a drug-induced psychosis. The story also takes a critical look at urban life in Cape Town. The novel is celebrated by fans of the author as he wrote only a few before his untimely death.
“Literature often discusses mental illness in an unflinching way that is also palatable and easy to understand.“
Darius the Great Is Not Okay- Adib Khorram
Mental health issues dealt with: clinical depression, self-esteem issues.
This young adult novel was released in 2018 and has garnered popularity since then. The novel follows protagonist Darius as he takes his first trip to Iran to meet his grandparents while dealing with clinical depression. The novel also deals with other issues such as being a biracial child and an immigrant in the United States.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Stephen Chbosky
Mental health issues dealt with: PTSD.
This young adult classic burst into popularity when it was adapted into a movie in 2012. The book was first released in 1999 to much critical acclaim for its honest look at mental health in teenagers and various other issues that young people deal with in their lives. The book tells the story of Charlie during his first year of high school and the troubles he finds in adapting. The book takes a look at the effects of PTSD on a person.
“This young adult classic burst into popularity when it was adapted into a movie in 2012.“
The Bell Jar- Sylvia Plath
Mental health issues dealt with: depression, mental health treatments, suicide.
This classic novel was the only one ever written by Sylvia Plath and it has resonated with readers since it was published in 1963. The novel follows a young protagonist, Esther, as she tries to start her life in a big city. As we follow her journey we see her mental health worsening. Although the book can be difficult to read at times, it is a resonating and uplifting experience. This book is a classic in terms of novels that deal with mental health and is a must for anyone’s reading list.
All the Bright Places- Jennifer Niven
Mental health issues dealt with: bipolar disorder, depression.
All the Bright Places was recently adapted into a Netflix film which once again created hype around the story. The novel, which was first published in 2015, was met with popularity amongst readers for its realistic depiction of mental health. The story follows Theodore and Violet, both teenagers suffering with mental health issues, and their developing relationship. The story deals with both mental illness that has been in someone’s life for a while and mental illness that is new and how someone can cope with that. The story has been celebrated for its depiction of bipolar disorder.
“All the Bright Places was recently adapted into a Netflix film which once again created hype around the story.“
The Catcher in the Rye- J. D. Salinger
Mental health issues dealt with: anxiety, depression. This classic is one that many of us have read at one point in our lives. The novel was first published in 1951 but is still a valuable read for many people today. The novel follows Holden Caulfield and his journey through New York City for a few days. This classic is loved by many, but recent rereads by people have discovered that, despite showing teen angst, the novel also deals with dwindling mental health in young people. Holden deals with many mental issues including anxiety.
The Weight of Our Sky- Hanna Alkaf
Mental Health issues dealt with: OCD.
This young adult novel hit our shelves last year and has gained good reviews since. The novel follows Melati Ahmad, who has OCD. The story also takes place during the 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This novel is set apart from other books that deal with mental health because the main character believes she has a djinn inside her that makes her do her OCD rituals.
Image: Giovanna Janos