Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature

Exploring Real Struggles through Fictional Characters

by Kia Jane Richmond


Mental illness affects approximately one in five American teens, and according to recent surveys, one quarter of young adult literature features characters with mental or psychological disorders.

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Cover image for Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature

December 2018

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 213
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Children's and Young Adult Collection Management/Acquisition and Collection Development Guides
  Children's and Young Adult Services/People with Disabilities

This book explores how mental illness is portrayed in 21st-century young adult fiction and how selected works can help teachers, librarians, and mental health professionals to more effectively address the needs of students combating mental illness.

Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles through Fictional Characters highlights American young adult literature published since the year 2000 that features characters grappling with mental illness. Chapters focus on mental disorders identified by the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, and OCD.

Each chapter begins with a description of a mental illness that includes its prevalence, demographic trends, symptoms, related disorders, and treatment options before examining a selection of young adult texts in depth. Analysis of the texts explores how a mental illness manifests for a particular character, how that character perceives him- or herself and is perceived by others, and what treatment or support he or she receives. The connections between mental illness and race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and identity are examined, and relevant research from education, psychology, and adolescent health is thoroughly integrated. Each chapter also provides a list of additional readings. An appendix offers strategies for integrating young adult literature into health curricula and other programs.


  • Offers extensive analysis of contemporary young adult fiction featuring youth with mental illness to help school and youth services librarians make informed collection development and readers' advisory decisions
  • Examines the symptoms and warning signs of mental illness in adolescents in addition to how various disorders are diagnosed and treated
  • Offers strategies for teachers and librarians to integrate quality texts into middle and high school curricula and into community initiatives aimed at confronting the stigma associated with mental illness
  • Follows a standardized chapter format that makes it easy for readers to learn about the books and the mental illnesses they highlight
  • Provides an extended list of resources at the end of each chapter that includes additional young adult fiction and nonfiction as well as adult fiction texts
Author Info

Kia Jane Richmond, PhD, is professor of English at Northern Michigan University, where she directs the English Education program. She was selected as the recipient of her university's Excellence in Teaching Award in 2014. An active member of the National Council of Teachers of English, the Conference on English Education, and the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE), she was awarded the Charles Carpenter Fries Award for Excellence in Teaching/Mentoring by MCTE in 2015. She is a co-recipient of the Conference on English Education's English Leadership Quarterly Best Article Award for 2017.

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