March 2 is Teen Mental Wellness Day, a day dedicated to shining a light on mental health struggles for teens and to remove the stigma mental health often has, so we highlight books for children and young adults that face mental health head on. Whether it is a child facing it themselves or someone in their life that struggles with it, these books cover a wide range of mental health obstacles: from anxiety to depression to PTSD to OCD and more. Trigger warnings will be listed at the beginning of each entry where needed. These books do not encompass the entirety of mental health issues people face, but rather a small sampling.
We also compiled a list of professional resources for anyone to access. If you are a child or young adult or you know of a child/young adult struggling with mental health, we hope these resources help, whether through reaching out for help, learning more about mental illness and how to cope with it, or connecting with similar youth.
Lily and Dunkin. 2016 (Middle Grade).
Trigger Warning: not taking medication
Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl, but being a girl isn’t easy when you look like a boy, especially when you’re in the eighth grade. Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he’s also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse. This dual narrative follows both young people as they struggle mentally through their challenges, but they get to do it together.
Red: A Crayon’s Story. 2015 (Picture Book).
Red has a bright red label, but he is, in fact, blue. His teacher tries to help him be red by drawing strawberries; his mother tries to help him be red by sending him on a playdate with a yellow classmate to draw a nice orange together; and the scissors try to help him be red by snipping his label so that he has room to breathe. But Red is miserable. He just can’t be red, no matter how hard he tries. A brand-new friend offers a brand-new perspective, and Red discovers what he’s known all along. This picture book on identity crises is about being true to your inner self and following your own path, despite the obstacles that may come your way.
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A Terrible Thing Happened. 2000 (Picture Book).
Sherman Smith saw the most terrible thing happen. At first, he tries to forget about it. But soon something inside him started to bother him. He felt nervous, sometimes his stomach hurt, he had bad dreams, and he started to feel angry and do mean things, which gets him in trouble. Then he met Ms. Maple, who helped him talk about the terrible thing that he had tried to forget. This illustrated story is for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode and may be experiencing some PTSD from the event, whether that be physical abuse, school or gang violence, accidents, homicide, suicide, or natural disasters.
Impulse. 2007 (Teen).
Trigger Warnings: suicide, cutting, addiction, depression
Three lives converge at the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted suicide. Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets have been bottling up and the only way to release them is through cutting. Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills. And Conner outwardly has the perfect life, but dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, and himself. In one instant, all three decided enough was enough — and tried to end it all. This verse novel traverses the demons these individuals face and the strength they need to find to face their second chance.
The Science of Breakable Things. 2018 (Middle Grade).
Trigger Warning: parent with depression
Natalie Napoli’s botanist mother is suffering from depression, not getting out of bed most days. When Mr. Neely, Natalie’s science teacher, suggests that Natalie enter an egg drop competition, Natalie doesn’t want to at first. Not until she realizes that she could use the prize money to fly her mother to see the Cobalt Blue Orchids—flowers that survive against impossible odds. Natalie thinks the flowers are sure to inspire her mother to love life again. Alongside broken friendships and new friendships, science projects, and enthusiastic teachers, Natalie learns that depression is not a choice.
Darius the Great is Not Okay. 2018 (Teen).
Trigger Warning: clinical depression
Darius Kellner doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough. He speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. And he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. So it’s pretty overwhelming taking his first-ever trip to Iran. But in Iran, he gets to know his ailing but formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he also gets to meet Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab. And as Sohrab calls him Darioush, the original Persian version of his name, Darius has never felt more like himself. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
Anger is a Gift. 2018 (Teen).
Trigger Warnings: loss of a parent, panic attacks, racism, violence, police brutality, murder
Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’s father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks. Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school: new rules, random locker searches, constant intimidation, and the Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. So the students decide to fight back by organizing and pushing back against the administration. When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must decide if he should give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.
Hector’s Favorite Place. 2018 (Picture Book).
Hector loves his home — it’s comfy, snuggly, and safe. But sometimes Hector relies on the safety of his home too much. He’s invited to play outside with his friends, but he worries about the potential problems he might encounter. And soon, Hector realizes that his worries are keeping him from enjoying himself, so he needs to learn to be brave and try new things. This picture book about anxiety and worries encourages kids to step outside their comfort zone.
Girl Against the Universe. 2016 (Teen).
Trigger Warnings: PTSD, anxiety, OCD, compulsions, agoraphobia
Sixteen-year-old Maguire knows the universe is against her. No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen around her. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or the time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash, and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch. Despite what her therapist tells her, Maguire thinks it’s best to hide out in her room, far away from anyone she might accidentally hurt. But then she meets Jordy, and Maguire knows the best thing she can do for him is to stay away. However, it turns out staying away might be harder than she thought.
Swartz, Elly D.
Finding Perfect. 2016 (Middle Grade).
Trigger Warnings: OCD, compulsions
To Molly Nathans, perfect is the number four, the tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil, a crisp white pad of paper, and her neatly aligned glass animal figurines. What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest, where the winner is honored at a fancy banquet with tablecloths. Molly is sure her mother would never miss it. But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry becomes harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.
Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM)
SAHM has a comprehensive list of mental health resources for adolescents and young adults, offering online resources, apps and tech services, mental health resource institutes, mental health medication guides, and helplines. These resources are aimed specifically for adolescent and young adults.
This organization is available to inform individuals about their mental health. They aim to take the best available scientific evidence in mental health and make it easy to understand and accessible to everyone. Materials provided are in a variety of mediums including videos, animations, brochures, e-books, face-to-face training programs, and online training programs. The materials are specifically designed to meet the needs of children, youth, young adults, families, educators, community agencies, and healthcare providers.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans affected by mental illness. They work to educate, advocate, listen, and lead to improve the lives of people with mental illness and their loved ones. There are resources on their website for individuals suffering from mental illness—for adults, children, youth, teens, and young adults—as well as for family members and caregivers who may need help in understanding/helping loved ones with mental illness. NAMI currently has extended helpline hours; call the NAMI helpline at 800-950-6264 M-F 10 am – 8 pm ET or in a crisis text “NAMI” to 741741 for 24/7, confidential, free crisis counseling.
Center for Parent Information & Resources
This Center, under the U.S. Department of Education, has a comprehensive list of resources for parents with children suffering from mental illness. It includes fact sheets, information for a crisis situation, a comprehensive list of resources, information on finding mental health services, and organizations that help with specific disorders.