Let's Talk Tough: Breaking Down Stigmas & Stereotypes (Guest Post by Karole Cozzo)

Welcome to Let's Talk Tough, a week-long series here at The Book Bratz where we discuss some hard topics in YA literature. Today's topic is Breaking Down Stigmas & Stereotypes - how they're written about, what's unrealistic about them, what is realistic, etc.

Karole Cozzo, author of How to Say I Love You Out Loud, is not only an author, but a current school psychologist who reached out to us to offer her thoughts on some of our topics this week. 

Here is what she had to say:

As a working school psychologist and young adult author, the subject of “tough topics in YA” is close to my heart. Mental illness is not a condition unique to adults – the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness estimates that one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14. Sadly, although effective treatments exist, people often wait years and years to seek help. Teenagers, in particular, may feel there are many barriers to recognizing their struggles, sharing them with others, and finding an effective course of treatment.

What am I feeling? Is this normal…or am I really messed up?
I’m embarrassed, ashamed, scared to be feeling these things…how would I ever tell my parents?
My parents will see me differently. My friends will see me differently.
I just want this to GO AWAY. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away.
I can’t see a doctor or therapist without telling my parents. There’s no way I can tell my parents.
I don’t trust my teachers or guidance counselors.
I don’t want to talk to someone about this. They won’t understand.
Am I crazy? If I talk about this, will other people think I’m crazy?

Although the dialogue about mental health issues in America is expanding, and although the scientific/physiological underpinnings of mental health disorders are coming to be better understood, there is still an unfortunate stigma associated with experiencing mental health issues. Whereas few feel ashamed to seek medical help for conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, chronic physical pain, etc., those who seek help for chronic mental or emotional pain may be led to believe they are weak, weird, or crazy. The experience can be very isolating, and instead of being able to outwardly seek help, many individuals are left to internalize their struggles, hiding them, burying them with the hopes that they’ll go away, that no one will notice. Unfortunately, mental illness is resistant to burying its head in the sand, and issues of this type rarely clear up on their own.

How wonderful it is that books exist, specifically geared toward young adults, to remind them: You are not alone in your struggles. In situations where an individual feels there is no one in their real world they can talk to or relate to, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their being able to pick up a book and discover a well-written story about a character facing similar challenges. While reading a book is by no means a cure-all, I believe it can provide a sense of relief, and may be the first step in helping an individual recognize maybe their experience isn’t so weird after all.

It’s also my belief that as it becomes more commonplace to include issues pertaining to mental illness in YA fiction, the representation of mental health issues will become more accurate, positive, and optimistic. We can all think of the bad, silly, negative, or outright ridiculous representations we have seen of eating disorders, schizophrenia, depression, OCD, etc. that we have encountered in TV, movies, and books. The truth of the matter is that mental health issues are not always downright debilitating. People living with mental illness are not defined by their emotional struggles. They often maintain jobs. They often have families. They smile, they laugh, they love. They’re productive, contributing members of society. It’s my hope that accurate and balance portrayals of mental health struggles in YA will serve to remind young readers that they are more than their mental health struggles. While they may never beat down their demons entirely, they can find hope that they can at least tame the monster, find an effective treatment method that will allow them to embrace the other parts of themselves…and flourish.

With these ideas in mind, I am thrilled that the Book Bratz are taking this week to highlight this topic and share book recommendations that tackle tough topics in YA. Books are powerful weapons against isolation, stigmatization, and stereotypes often associated with mental health struggles. It’s so encouraging that more and more authors are tackling these tough topics and readers are embracing stories that, while perhaps not the easiest to read, are providing an accurate portrayal of those living with mental health challenges.

Here’s a sobering statistic – although suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. overall, it’s the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years. In any way, shape, or form, we must reach the young adults of this nation and let them know you are not alone and you are more than your mental health challenges.  In my opinion, books are an absolutely wonderful place to start.

I've composed a list of books with the help of some twitter followers on books where the main character has some form of a mental disorder:


A huge thank you goes to Karole for helping us with our Let's Talk Tough this week! It wouldn't have been possible with out her help. 

Here is what is up for the rest of the week!

6/24: Breaking Down Stigmas & Stereotypes
6/25: Sex/Rape
6/26: Abuse 

1 comment

  1. I can't even express how much I loved reading this post. I have always been always geared towards reading YA books that contain characters suffering from a mental illness. Having experienced similar situations myself, I can definitely find solace and comfort in books were the topic is handled and portrayed with care. Meaning that it's not treated as an alien condition or something that should be examined in a critical and judging way, but instead in a realistic way that informs and reaches out to those going through it. It's definitely an important branch to the YA genre and it makes me real happy to see more and more people address the subject in such an altruistic way.

    I've read about a handful of the books mentioned and I must say, they have all presented really well-written and realistic portrayals of mental-illness. I'll definitely be adding the rest to my TBR!

    Sophie @ Seamless Reader


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