10 Books to Help Children Understand Mental Illness

by ParentCo. January 16, 2017

drawing of a man sits on the bed

Each year, about 43.6 million American adults (or 18.1 percent of the total adult population in the United States) suffer from some type of mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Just over 20 percent (or 1 in 5) of children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder.

As much as we want to shield our kids from confusion or concern, health professionals recommend educating children and teenagers about mental illness. When they receive the correct information, it helps dispel common misconceptions and stigma, and provides them with the knowledge and resources they need to understand a particular illness and why they – or someone they know – might struggle.

Curious how to tackle the topic with your own kids? Start with reading. Here are 10 books to help children understand mental illness:

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

by Michael Rosen

Sadness is part of the human condition that should never be dismissed. The “Sad Book” is a wonderfully illustrated book that explains sadness and depression to children. It also touches upon grief and loss and ways to cope. For children going through a difficult time or watching someone who is, the “Sad Book” helps put feelings into thoughts and thoughts into words.

Up and Down the Worry Hill

by Aureen Pinto Wagner, Ph.D.

“Up and Down the Worry Hill” tackles the tough topics of childhood anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Written for a younger audience, the book is easy to read and comprehend. The author is a clinical child psychologist, an anxiety treatment expert, and an international speaker who is recognized for her unique Worry Hill® treatment approach.

Helicopter Man

by Elizabeth Fensham

Pete’s dad suffers from schizophrenia and paranoia, but that doesn’t stop Pete from having a loving and fulfilling relationship with him. The delusions become shared adventures until, one day, they spiral out of control. Pete’s dad goes into the hospital and Pete is sent to foster care. It’s a new beginning for Pete where normal seems strange at first, but eventually allows him to better understand his father’s mental illness. Using journal entries and short stories, “Helicopter Man” is one part novel, one part tremendous educational resource.

The Princess and the Fog

by Lloyd Jones

A Bronze Medal Winner for Picture Books in the Early Reader category of the 2015 Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, “The Princess and the Fog” tells the story of a little princess who had everything… until the fog came. Using telling illustrations and metaphors to create an engaging, relatable story, the book helps young children learn about depression and cope with their difficult feelings.

Why is Dad So Mad?

by Seth Kastle

Although “Why is Dad So Mad?” is specifically meant for military families, with special emphasis on post-combat related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the book can help all children and families better understand this debilitating illness. Written in a narrative style, “Why is Dad So Mad?” explains PTSD in easy-to-understand terms and how it effects the people we love.

The Bipolar Bear Family

by Angela Holloway

“The Bipolar Bear Family” is a story about a young cub who struggles to understand his mother's behavior and her subsequent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The author is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an expert in the treatment of chronic mental illness in the family system.

Finding Audrey

by Sophie Kinsella

Meant for middle school-aged children, “Finding Audrey” details the story of a 14-year-old bullying victim and the extreme anxiety disorder it triggers. Kirkus Reviews calls it: “An outstanding tragicomedy that gently explores mental illness, the lasting effects of bullying, and the power of friends and loving family to help in the healing.”

Every Last Word

by Tamara Ireland Stone

Samantha McAllister has Pure Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off. Ideal for teens and young adults, “Every Last Word” is a tough-issue contemporary novel that explores the underlying symptoms of OCD and takes us on a fictional, yet all too familiar, journey of self-healing.

Readers join Samantha as she grows from being a girl who is terrified of others knowing about her condition, to a girl who learns to own it, surrounding herself with people who accept and support her.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies

by Louise Gornall

Norah has agoraphobia, OCD, and anxiety, and hasn’t left the structured environment of her home in over four years. Will her cute new neighbor help her fight a debilitating illness and explore the world beyond? "Through Norah’s poetic internal monologue, Gornall, whose own experience with mental illness helped inform Norah’s story, provides an intimate glimpse into the mind of a young woman battling some very real demons,” says Publishers Weekly. Another contemporary novel meant for teens and young adult readers.

I would, but my DAMN MIND won't let me!

By Jacqui Letran

A new book that focuses on how the mind works and how teens can change their thoughts, “I would, but my DAMN MIND won’t let me!” presents simple steps to overcome obstacles and struggles. Teen confidence expert Jacqui Letran gives real-world advice that can be applied immediately to any situation. Ideal for teens struggling with body issues, self-doubt, and worry – challenges that can lead to anxiety and depression.

There are so many wonderful books that cover the topic of mental illness. Which one would you recommend? Share in the comments!



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