An Anxious Reader’s Guide to YA and Mental Health

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week! If you didn’t know, one week is dedicated each October to the millions of Americans who suffer with mental illness and or disorders. It’s an important part of breaking down the stigmas associated with mental health.

Since mental health is something I discuss often on my social media, I think it would be only right to talk about it here as well! So today I’m going to share some of my favorite books that tackle topics of mental illness as well as a little bit about my own journey with my mental health this year.

YA novels that feature anxiety

Find me on Insta @booknerd_reads

Combining my mental health and my love for reading is special to me. There is no feeling better than seeing yourself represented in books, so when I find a book that perfectly describes the anxiety I’ve felt all my life, I get an overwhelming sense of relief.

And I want you to feel the same.

I’m going to be sharing a few of my favorite YA novels that feature main characters and or plots about anxiety. Some of these books explicitly state the character has anxiety, or is implied through context of the story. If there are any other MI identities featured in the novel I’ll include that as well as possible trigger warnings if there are listed.

I really hope you like my recommendations! Enjoy!


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

MI: Anxiety

There’s just so much to love about Fangirl. It has fanfiction, friends to lovers, and sisterly bonds all within a college setting. Rowell creates such developed characters that seem like they could actually exist. What keeps me coming back to Fangirl (I’ve read it four times—and probably will again) is that I’ve never seen myself more reflected in a fictional character than Cath Avery. And because of that, this book means the world to me. (Though I must admit this book doesn’t explicitly state that Cath has anxiety it was still the first portrayal I’d seen in YA.)


Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

MI: Anxiety

Eliza and Her Monsters delves into the life of Eliza Mink, a reserved outcast at school but artist and creator of the famous webcomic, Monstrous Sea. While Eliza prefers to keep her online fame and real world separate, her life is about to change when her worlds collide. Eliza is similar to Cath from Fangirl with themes of fan culture, but features a main character actually diagnosed with anxiety. I enjoyed the friends to lovers romance and the feeling of being a part of an online community. If any of that appeals to you, then I definitely recommend Eliza and Her Monsters. Trigger warnings include anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.


Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

MI: Anxiety

 Finding Audrey centers around Audrey, who suffers from intense social anxiety and the obstacles surrounding her recovery process. While there is a romantic subplot, the novel is focused on family dynamics which we don’t get to see that very often in YA.While Finding Audrey touches on sensitive issues such as anxiety, mental illness and trauma, there is also young love, wacky antics (so much comic relief) and learning to be kind to yourself and others. Content warnings include anxiety and panic attacks.


Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

MI: Anxiety, OCD, agoraphobia

Under Rose-Tainted Skies surrounds Norah’s mental health—particularly her growing attachment to her next door neighbor, Luke, who feels worlds away from her. It’s an #ownvoices novel and the main character, Norah, suffers from anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and agoraphobia. Much of the plot is focused on Norah’s coping and her relationships with those around her: from Norah and her mom, her therapist and Luke. There’s romance, family and an accurate portrayal of coping and recovery for mental illness. Trigger warnings include OCD, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and self-harm.


Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

MI: Anxiety

In Queens of Geek, Charlie, Taylor, and Jamie are friends attending the pop culture convention SupaCon. Taylor’s anxiety has always kept her from stepping out of her shell, but she might just have to take a risk if she wants a chance to meet her biggest idol and a chance at love. Queens of Geek is an #ownvoices novel for identities such as bisexuality, anxiety and Asperger’s. This novel features a lot about fan culture so if you like that and diverse characters or friends to lovers romance then this book is perfect for you! Trigger warnings include biphobia, ableism, anxiety, panic attacks, sexism, and bullying. 

Once again, I really hope you like my recommendations! Even though I have anxiety myself, my opinion on the representation in these books might differ from someone else because they are just one perspective among many. (That’s just one thing to take into account when reading on heavier subjects like mental health.) 

My other favorite thing about these novels beside their portrayals of mental illness is that because they’re YA contemporary novels, the authors often balance serious topics like mental illness with lighter themes of friends, family, and romance! It symbolizes the highs and lows many of us struggling with our mental health might relate to.

Comment if you’ve read any of these books, or plan to! I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

My mental health journey

Even though I’ve discussed my anxiety on my Instagram (follow me here *shameless self-promo) I haven’t shared all of the gritty details, mostly because I don’t know how much personal stuff I want to share on there. So, I keep these details for my blog where I can go further in depth.

2018, in short, has been a wild ride for me in terms of mental health. I’ve been struggling with social & generalized anxiety for pretty much my entire life. I’ve always worried a bit more than my friends and peers, but since I managed to keep up this appearance of handling it all, I figured my parents wouldn’t believe me if I explained that I had horrible anxiety.

However, while I always managed to suppress it so I could be a mostly functioning member of society, I noticed the expectations of being a teenager were piling on me and I was falling deeper and  d e e p e r  into my own hole.

Like, driving, getting a job, taking the ACT, applying to college, etc. I either haven’t done those things, or just stress exponentially over them.


So, in May this year, I wrote my mom a letter explaining that I had anxiety and it was getting harder to function. (I wrote a letter because I knew if I tried to verbally explain I would get flustered. If you struggle with telling your family, I recommend a letter because it’s personal rather than texting and you can get your point across clearly.)

As a result (after much misunderstanding) my mom found me a local counselor so I could talk to someone. I was excited, it was a start! However, I was disappointed to discover my mom wasn’t getting me a diagnosis, but rather a counselor to talk to whatever I was “currently going through.” As someone who’d “gone through” anxiety for years, I was kind of aggravated. Did my parents think my anxiety was only temporary stress and not a disorder?

Despite my original doubts, it was nice to talk things out with my therapist. Every week (and eventually two weeks) I almost looked forward to seeing someone who enjoyed listening to me and offering helpful advice to my distorted thought process. But I noticed not much had changed for me. I was still terrified of doing the simplest of things.


So I asked my mom if I could start medication.

As a nurse, my mom knew next to nothing about anxiety medication. (I think her being a nurse contributed to her not believing anxiety was a real disorder because you couldn’t locate it within the body and treat it with antibiotics.) She said no, it was too risky. Which, fair enough, I’d done some research (and horror stories) on anxiety meds.

But, after crying several times a week from the smallest of worries, I figured I’d give it a try.

My family doctor actually explained it to my mom quite well. Here’s what he said (from my Twitter, which you can also follow here.)

Thank you, Doctor.

It’s been nearly two months since then. I feel . . . almost free. Sure, I’m dreading turning in my college apps and I don’t like thinking about starting speech and debate season soon and I’m still afraid to drive a car. . .

Wait, where was I going with this?

Anyway, I’m learning to approach my worries as not just an enormous storm cloud but a goal list with small tasks to overcome that goal. And that I can do it.

I still get anxious when I have to present in class, and my heart feels heavy when I think about all of the things I have to do by certain deadlines, but the medication, I think, is actually helping. And I’m grateful, because not everyone is so lucky.

Moral of the story, I suppose, it’s okay to be afraid to reach out for help. It’s the first step but it’s ultimately the most difficult. You deserve the life you want, free of mental illness. Your treatment might be different than mine, but there is hope. I believe in you.

I hope you liked my post! Leave any comments or thoughts you have below!









16 thoughts on “An Anxious Reader’s Guide to YA and Mental Health

  1. I’m glad you’re in a better place with your anxiety now 💛 I personally can’t read books with mental illness rep because I get too triggered but every once in a while I brave the storm and read one. Eliza and Her Monsters is on my tbr and I’ve heard great things about it


  2. I’m happy things are going well for you! Lately I’ve started opening up to my parents about my mental health (I think that anxiety attack I had on the bus is what finally pushed me). I’m taking baby steps right now, but hope to get to a point where I’m seeing a therapist or going on meds within the next few months 🙂


  3. Thank you so much for writing this post, Jill! I really loved all your recs — I can’t wait to get to Queens of Geek one day, and Eliza and Her Monsters is absolutely amazing. And I appreciate you being open about your journey! I’m in the same place as you — I want to reach out for help to get a therapist and/or anxiety/depression meds, but I don’t think my mom would understand, and she has a really strong dislike for medications of any kind. But it’s really helpful to know what you did (I might try a letter one day!) and that it ended up working out for you! I hope the rest of your 2018 is less harsh on your mental health 💖💞


  4. Love this post and all of your recommendations! And thank you for sharing your mental health journey; I’m glad that you reached out for help and you’re feeling much better now 💖

    I’ve read Eliza and her Monsters and I really enjoyed it! Fangirl has been on my TBR for a while now, but after reading your thoughts on it, I definitely need to read it soon. (Same with Queens of Geek!) 😍


  5. I’m happy you have received treatment and it’s going well for you! I know it can difficult to cope with anxiety (as I have been struggling with social anxiety myself throughout my life) but it will get better with time. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t give up on yourself! 🙂


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