Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who have Depression and/or Mental Illness

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish in which book bloggers list their top ten picks for whatever the current prompt is.

TPOBAW Gif 01via

Lately, I noticed I am gravitating towards novels with a focus on mental health. In fact, just this quarter, I’ve read five. Yes, there is something appealing to this type of books. No, I am not demented. Because I do not enjoy the struggle and suffering. These are glass shards in the palm, multiple blows in the gut. But I take them. And I’m better for it. As these stories help me get out of the proverbial shoes. They help me understand. They help me empathize. They help me through my own dark tunnels.

So for today, I compiled a list of books that center on depression and/or mental illness. Incidentally, this is my first Top Ten Tuesday too.

 More Than This 02   The Perks of Being a Wallflower   Playlist for the Dead 01

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Seth Wearing’s depression pushed him to drown himself (this isn’t really a spoiler; read the synopsis). The point is finding out what led to this. What you get is a heartrending portrayal of a teen trying to keep it together. Until he no longer can.
Bonus: This one is weird. So if you’re into that.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
TPOBAW is easily one of my favoritest. Here’s my pitch: if you are—or once were—a teenager, you’ll like, if not love, this. But here’s another thing, it also deals with suicide, guilt and repressed memories.
Bonus: Logan Lerman did a pitch-perfect portrayal of Charlie in the film adaptation. Basically, the whole movie is AMAZING.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff
Sam Goldsmith wakes up one day with his best friend Hayden not breathing—not even snoring, which he normally does. And all he left is a playlist with a suicide note that says, “For Sam—listen and you’ll understand.” Falkoff paints a vivid picture of how even best friends can be strangers to one another.
Bonus: The chapter titles are actual songs from the playlist and this is an experience on its own.

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley 01   My Heart and Other Black Holes 01   All the Bright Places 02

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun Hutchinson
This one’s a recent read and I’m grateful I saw it up on Pulse It’s Free Reads last week. I said this before and I’ll say it again: I seldom cry for both books and films. But The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley got me breaking my rules. Hutchinson’s depiction of loss and guilt can only be described as “raw.”
Bonus: “It’s a partly graphic novel.”

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
We often see or read about after the suicide, where characters deal with or try to understand why a loved one did it. Now Aysel Seran and Roman Fraklin, aka Frozenrobot, here are on the planning-our-suicide phase. The takeaway? Warga doesn’t romanticize depression. No.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
I don’t even know how to begin with this novel. It’s about mental illness and PTSD and guilt (do you see the trend in my list?) and there’s really no way of talking about Niven’s YA debut without being spoilery, but this much I’ll tell you: every so often we walk away from a story which we’ll always think of, All the Bright Places is one of those stories.
Bonus: For when wry humor is your thing.

The next four titles are ones I’ve yet to read. Hey now.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye 01   Love Letters to the Dead 01   Challenger Deep 01   Mosquitoland

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
Lex’s brother Tyler killed himself and she has to cope up with loss and guilt. Kirkus calls it, “evocative and insightful.”

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
May, Laurel’s sister, is dead. But how can she mourn when she hasn’t forgiven her? Here, from Guardian: “This book does make you go slightly down at points, because it reaches into you and pulls about at your emotions, so if you like happy-go-lucky books, a lot of this might not be for you. But if you can handle some tear-jerking bits in books, then this book should be on your ‘to-read’ list.”

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
It follows Caden Bosch on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Also, Caden Bosch is schizophrenic. Publishers Weekly gave this novel a starred review, stating, “[Caden’s] story doesn’t necessarily represent a “typical” experience of mental illness, it turns symptoms into lived reality in ways readers won’t easily forget.”

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
“I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.” Mim is certainly not okay; she has a mental illness. So does her mom. School Library Journal praised it with: “Debut author Arnold’s book is filled with some incredible moments of insight. The protagonist is a hard-edged narrator with a distinct voice.”

Let’s talk! Which of these have you read? Any title(s) you’ll add to the list? What is the theme of your list? And, PLEASE, if you know or suspect someone to be undergoing depression or is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, PLEASE PLEASE REACH OUT TO THEM. THERE’S HELP AND WE HAVE TO BE THAT HELP OR AT LEAST THE BRIDGE.

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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38 thoughts on “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who have Depression and/or Mental Illness

  1. I’ve read All The Bright Places, My Heart and Other Blackholes, and Playlist for the Dead. Planning on reading The Last Time We Say Goodbye and Love Letters to the Dead soon. 🙂


    1. Yes! I went to your Tumblr account (and followed you) and I wanted to leave a comment, except you don’t have a commenting system? Or I can’t find it? Any road, yeah, All the Bright Places both ruined us. Fiiiiiinch!!!


  2. I’ve read All the Bright Places, Love Letters to the Dead, and Perks. I was one of the few people to not love Perks; it was more mehh for me. I loved AtBP and LLttD. The other books are all on my TBR list!

    I would also add This Song Will Save Your Life, Damsel Distressed, Wintergirls, I’ll Meet You There, We Were Liars (PTSD?), and the upcoming Every Last Word. But amazing list! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 🙂 I’m sorry TPOBAW was mehh to you but, hey, we’re entitled to our own opinion. And yes, We Were Liars! I’ve read that one, too. This Song Will Save Your Life, I’ll Meet You There and Every Last Word are on my TBR. ATBP! Ugh. I’m still in pieces!


  3. So I love psychological stuff, and I should really read more books who depict mentally ill characters. I’ve heard SO MUCH about these books but I still haven’t read them? (Example: My Heart and other Black Holes, All the Bright Places, Mosquitoland.) And there are a couple others in your list that I really want to try now, like More Than This and Five Stages.

    The support for people undergoing depression is why I love Tumblr so much — there are literally random posts on my dash every time just saying “Reblog if you’re there for anyone who needs help” or lists of hotlines or just a reminder that you’re awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! And this is why I love this wonderful community! Because even if critics call it shallow clicktivism, I do believe that at least one of our reblogs or RTs reach the target audience we’re thinking about when we did the reblog or RT.

      Oh, More Than This is really weird! Like, most of the time I was reading I was like, what is this? But in a good way! In an absolute freakishly good way! And hmm. Of the four titles I’ve yet to read, Mosquitoland is what I badly want to get my hands on. Sadly, though, it isn’t available here.

      Thanks for dropping by Alyssa!


  4. This seems to be a popular topic today! And no wonder as mental illness is a prominent theme in lots of literature, especially YA. Like you, I feel like “walking in their shoes” helps me understand and empathize more with those who suffer from mental illness.

    I love Patrick Ness, but I agree MORE THAN THIS was weird. Heartbreaking. And weird.

    Happy TTT!


    1. Oh, I meant weird in a good way! In a more-than-good way, actually. Yes, the book community is doing everyone a great service by tackling this specific subject more openly and with abundance (though it’s still not enough; I’m just lazy to look for a more appropriate term) but I think YA does it best, mainly because of the inherent sense of immediacy of YA. Thank you for the visit! Happy TTT!


  5. I can’t wait to read All the Bright Places! 🙂 It’s been sitting on my shelf for a while, but it’s next on my list. Have you read It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini? It’s based on the author’s life, and he had depression. But it’s not a “depressing” book, it’s actually really funny. It’s a simple, quirky story, but it’s fantastic. It was also made into a movie (though it’s not very true to the book, but I like them both for different reasons).


    1. I have not, but I’ve heard about it. My former roommate read it and said it was good but somehow I never got around to it. But now that I’m on a streak, I might check it out. Also, I hope you pick up All the Bright Places real soon! Thank you for dropping by Kate!


    1. I haven’t read any from him but I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of Challenger Deep, as I’ve never had a book that portrays schizophrenia (well, the Heroes of Olympus series does not count) before. And Jon of Bookish Antics totally sold me this one. Thank you for commenting!

      And oh! If you liked the film, you should definitely get on with the book!


  6. I’ve only read two of these books : More Than This and Perks of Being a Wallflower (well I think I’ve read this). More Than This is definitely a strange book – I spent a lot of the time wondering what on earth was going on. I still really liked it though.

    A lot of the others are books I really want to read – I have a feeling though that some are going to make me cry.


    1. So did I! Like, the whole time I was like, what is this? But it was a terrific kind of weird and one that I’ll surely always remember. Oh shush now. YA authors DON’T want our tears.

      Thanks for the visit!


  7. I typically reserve Tuesdays for stalking everyone’s variations of Top Ten, and this is BY FAR my favorite of the week. You have just given me a ridiculous amount of titles to add to my TBR. THANK YOU!

    Perks is also a favorite of mine. What I love most about it is that you are right there with Charlie. You read his thoughts and you relate. You don’t put down the book and think “whoa, that kid is so depressed.” You think “whoa, this kid is going through some shit and I totally get it.” Which is so important.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so very much! This means more than I can say! And I’m sorry for the “ridiculous amount” I’ve added to your TBR (not really)! Yeah, that’s the thing with TPOBAW; it’s so relatable even if our circumstances are different. I’m curious which of these are you super excited to pick up?


  8. OKAY, BUT FIRST; thank you for describing WHY you like these books so eloquently. I AM THE SAME. And I always end up going, “I read sad books because…um…I DO WHAT I WANT?” No, Cait. Use your words. -_- I love them because I empathise AND learn about said illness. And I really want to understand aaaall the things. xD

    So I absolutely loved Perks (OF COURSE) and More Than This and I totally recommend The Last Time We Say Goodbye!! (I read Love Letters to the Dead, but, um, I didn’t like it because I thought it ripped off Perks, sadly.) OMG I THINK YOU SHOULD READ ALICE AND THE FLY. It’s incredible. This Song Will Save Your Life is about depression and also incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. NO YOU DON’T! Yours are always FULL OF EMOTIONS. But thank you for saying such generous words! This, coming from you, makes me happy. 🙂

      I hope this is not just a trend. That it continues to go on and on and on. That more and more people write and talk about depression and mental illness. That we, no matter how many years it takes, finally break the stigma.

      I’m definitely reading The Last Time We Say Goodbye mainly because of your and Jamie’s reviews! And oh, that’s sad about Love Letters to the Dead. But Stephen Chbosky blurbed it right? I recall him tweeting several times about it the month it came out. And I was notified about your post on Alice and the Fly!!!

      Thank you for the recs and for dropping by!


  9. This is a great list! I would definitely add Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, as Cath has an anxiety disorder, and Anna and the French Kiss & Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, whose protagonists have OCD and depression, respectively.

    Really though, Fangirl completely just GETS college anxiety… that’s probably why I connected with it so well when I read it as a sophomore undergrad.


    1. AAAAAAHHH WHAT ARE YOU DOING READING THIS ARTICLE GO PICK UP TPOBAW!!! But, yeah, I needed Challenger Deep like last month. Mosquitoland, I have reasons to believe I’ll acquire by the end of the month. So that’s something to look forward to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did pick it up this past summer, actually. But it’s a “Summer Reading” book which means, you can only have it out for 14-28 days. I had a humongous pile of books at the end of that summer; and so I ended up having to return it. Hope to read end of this month or early June, after More Happy Than Not.


  10. The theme of my list is depression and schizophrenia/selective amnesia. I really love reading from the perspective of an unreliable narrator. It makes reading the story more unique, and fun. Not that I enjoy people suffering from mental illnesses, as you said, but to better understand what they are going through so I can listen better/more actively.


  11. I have read love letters to the dead and loved it. I suffer from depression and that book hit home to me. I have been struggling with personal issues for 10 years and have found reaching out online to seek the advice of others has helped me through the good and bad time. I have always had relationship issues and have started to follow the advice of Dr. Robi Ludwig. I saw her on a tv show once and I really appreciated her take on current psychological issues. She has written two books but my favorite book is with Your Best Age is Now I have read it and loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone out there struggling. Here is a link to her book:


  12. ATBP literally ripped my heart out and stomped on it. The last time a book hurt me that bad might of been The Book Thief. Like I will never forget that emotion. Another good one that really opened my eyes on mental illness and really made me see how much it can affect the individual going through it is Made You Up. I found that one a plot twist list.


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