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Books We Like: Mental Health Awareness Month

Published 5/1/2019 by Julie Crouse

Books We Like: Mental Health Awareness Month

In recognition of National Mental Health Awareness Month during the month of May, I would like to highlight fiction that demonstrates the common and variant, as well as very human issue of mental illness and mental health. The topic of mental health covers an array of conditions, from Alzheimer’s to anxiety, depression to dissociative disorders. How we view and treat these conditions is as diverse as their symptoms, and such heterogeneity comes through in the works of fiction that have gained popularity around this intriguing and worthy topic.

"Mrs. Gorski, I Think I have the Wiggle Fidgets" by Barbara Esham
According to the ADD Resource Center, 6.4 million American children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and this number grows every year. The picture book “Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets” by Barbara Esham and illustrated by Mike & Carl Gordon approaches the subject of this widespread disorder. David, like so many early school age children, has trouble paying attention, and his teacher Mrs. Gorski is at her wits end. Most appropriate for children age 6-8, this sweet tale shows the true creativity of the ADD/ADHD mind, and offers an approachable story with which young people diagnosed with ADHD can easily identify. The vibrant, squiggly illustrations pair perfectly with David’s distracted mind, and provides an imaginative yet practical approach for parents, teachers and kids who have experience with the wiggle fidgets.

"Low Boy" by John Wray
There is no shortage of teen fiction within this growing genre, and “Lowboy” by John Wray is at once intensely suspenseful and heartbreakingly beautiful. Lowboy is sixteen years old and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Wray delves deep into the erratic mind of his main character on his journey to save the planet from global warming, while juxtaposing the story of his mother’s search for Lowboy after he escapes from a mental institution to complete this quest. Seeing these two perspectives side-by-side, the reader is allowed a glimpse into the depths of mental illness and its effects on the diagnosed and their loved ones. A story that ultimately relates compassion and empathy as the most operative tools when engaging with mental illness

"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman
In adult fiction, I chose to review “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor struggles to function socially, and though it is never explicitly mentioned, seems to be on the Asperger Syndrome spectrum. Because she grapples with social anxiety and appropriate social connection with others, her greatest obstacle is one that is all too familiar to many of us in modern society: loneliness and isolation. Her lack of any filter makes this book at times awkwardly hilarious and always endearing. When warmth and understanding enter her life through new friendships, Eleanor eventually realizes that even she can open her heart to the world around her. This pick is also soon to be a major motion picture, spreading the story of this extraordinary heroine to an even wider audience.

Each of these works engages the reader beyond our own understanding and experience within the human mind, opening both minds and hearts to the multifaceted world of mental illness, as well as the opportunity for profound benevolence in self care and care for others in the justifiable and important quest for obtaining and maintaining mental health.