Today in the UK marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, 2019 hosted every year by the Mental Health Foundation. Mental illness is more prevalent than ever, and due to a number of factors, members of the LGBT community are at higher risk of experiencing mental health problems. As someone who suffers from depression myself, I know how vital it is that we, as a society, become better educated and so develop a greater understanding of the enormous impact mental illness can have on a person’s life.
One way we can gain a more informed view is through fictional accounts of characters who are struggling with mental health issues, whether depression, anxiety, self-harm, body dysmorphia, or any of the many varied forms it can take. To this end, I’ve put together a selection of YA LGBT+ titles that explore a range of mental conditions. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and if there are books you’ve particularly enjoyed, feel free to add them in the comments.
Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad. Remembering sucks and being alive – well, what’s up with that?
I have it in my head that when we’re born, God writes things down on our hearts. See, on some people’s hearts he writes Happy and on some people’s hearts he writes Sad and on some people’s hearts he writes Crazy on some people’s hearts he writes Genius and on some people’s hearts he writes Angry and on some people’s hearts he writes Winner and on some people’s hearts he writes Loser. It’s all like a game to him. Him. God. And it’s all pretty much random. He takes out his pen and starts writing on our blank hearts. When it came to my turn, he wrote Sad. I don’t like God very much. Apparently he doesn’t like me very much either.
I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman
For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.
Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.
Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.
Clean by Juno Dawson
I can feel it swimming through my veins like glitter … it’s liquid gold.
When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.
She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility.
From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady.
As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all …
It’s a dirty business getting clean…
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.
But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.
At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…
Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.
Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Kendra, fifteen, hasn’t felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can’t remember the most important detail– her abuser’s identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life.
To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it’s her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who’s becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra’s abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences.
Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl’s frightening path to the truth.
Vivaldi in the Dark by Matthew J. Metzger
Out-and-regretting-it comprehensive attendee Jayden Phillips turns his cast-iron plans for life upside-down by falling in love with private-school violinist Darren Peace, a sardonic boy with the craziest hair Jayden’s ever seen.
But all is not what it seems, and Jayden’s bullying problem becomes meaningless when he is confronted with what the music does to Darren. How do you stop a dangerous depression rooted in the same thing that makes someone what they are? Dark moods, blank apathy, and the undertow of self-loathing all simmer beneath Darren’s dry and beautiful veneer, and Jayden feels powerless to stop them.
Then a mugging gone wrong takes the music forcibly away, and Jayden is finally given the chance to change Darren’s life — and, quite literally, his mind.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
Three friends, two love stories, one convention: this fun, feminist love letter to geek culture is all about fandom, friendship, and finding the courage to be yourself.
Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.
Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan’s young adult imprint Swoon Reads, is an empowering novel for anyone who has ever felt that fandom is family.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran.
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.
Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson
Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.
More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.
Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy, and soon suspects that something else is going on: that the universe is shrinking.
When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing between them, even if he still loves Tommy.
But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy–that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as possible.