Original Article Published on yesmagazine.org
May marks Mental Health Month in the United States and an opportunity to break down stigma about mental illness. And, given that mental illness often first appears in people’s teens, conversations on the subject can be particularly important for youth.
In movies, TV, and books, mental illness is often framed as a disease of adulthood, and one of women—think books like Jane Eyre, Sylvia Plath’s body of work, and even Orange is the New Black. But why is mental illness often portrayed as a women’s issue when overall rates of psychiatric disorders are equal for men and women? And why are teens who experience symptoms like anxiety, depression, and mania often dismissed as dramatic when half of all chronic mental illness starts by age 14?
The way pop culture depicts—or doesn’t depict—mental illness is crucial to the way we think and talk about it.
The way pop culture depicts—or doesn’t depict—mental illness is crucial to the way we think and talk about it. So if teen boys never see someone like them dealing with mental illness in the media they may assume that they are the only ones, and be less likely to reach out for help. One study found that girls were twice as likely as boys to be willing to use mental health services. That has big implications not just for teens but also for men, who take “boys don’t cry” into adulthood and tend to avoid psychiatric care throughout their lives.
That’s what makes books that take on the subject of mental health in young men so important. From the 2015 National Book Award-winning Challenger Deep—which depicts a boy with schizophrenia—to 2010’s Suicide Notes, also featuring a male protagonist, a growing number of young adult (YA) novels are shining light on the issue. And John Corey Whaley’s new novel, Highly Illogical Behavior, is the latest addition to this body of work.