Toxic Romance: Mental Health

In the words of Kylie Jenner, this is really the year of like, realizing stuff. Though she said that iconic line in her 2016 New Year’s resolutions, in 2020 and 2021 it kind of…came true? This past year through the pandemic and a myriad of other social justice issues, it seems like the time has come for us to all finally realize, and then talk about what we’ve realized. One of those issues is mental health, which is a topic that has unfortunately carried a lot of stigma with it for a long time. 

May happens to be Mental Health Awareness month in the United States, so we thought we’d start this month out by focusing on mental health awareness and mental illness/health as it is portrayed in romance novels. 

Mental health is a big topic, of course, and it is so wide reaching. Mental health issues affect your emotional, psychological, and overall well being. Your mental health is important at every stage of your life, and it can fluctuate over these stages depending on so many different factors. Your mental health can be affected by many things, such as biological factors, family history, and life experiences. These things in turn affect your mood, behavior, thinking, and much more. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration, 19% of American adults currently experience mental health issues–this is equivalent to 47 million people. Of that 19%, 4.5% struggle with a severe mental illness. All this is to say that mental health issues are incredibly prevalent in this country, and around the world for that matter. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues and you do not know what to do, here are a few options: tell someone you trust who you feel can help, text CONNECT to 741741 (free, and available 24/7), or call SAMHSA at 800-662-4357. There is always someone willing to listen, and to help. 

People who do not regularly read romance novels would probably assume that heavier issues like mental illness are never discussed within their sordid pages, but actually the opposite is true. The romance community is all about tackling the hard stuff. We’ve discussed in the past topics found in romance novels such as physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, addiction, consent, jealousy, and even the issues of ageism and different body types. While I wouldn’t recommend using romance novels as a guide in any sort of serious way, reading ones that deal in particular with issues like mental health can be a great way to learn about issues you may not be familiar with. Romance novels like these can also be great for representation, and working to take away the stigma of mental health and instead treating it as commonplace as it should be.   

We’ve gathered together a selection of these stories, but if you have a favorite that we’ve missed please make sure to comment below and tell us all about it. Included on this list are books that deal with things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and the like, but also neurodivergent issues like the autism spectrum. 

  • Distraction, by Nicole Edwards. Deals with depression and suicide. 
  • Trial by Desire, by Courtney Milan. Historical, so not implicit, but implied bipolar disorder.
  • Real, by Katy Evans. The hero is a boxer with bipolar disorder.
  • Someday, Someday, by Emma Scott. The hero has PTSD and a brother who is on the spectrum. 
  • Fall, by Kristen Callihan. The hero is a rockstar with depression and suicidal ideation. 
  • Far from Home, by Lorelie Brown. F/F. One of the heroines has anorexia. 
  • Beard in Mind, by Penny Reid. The heroine has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 
  • The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang. The heroine is on the spectrum.
  • Stand by You, by A.M. Arthur. M/M, one of the heroes has social anxiety/panic attacks

Through accessible genres like romance, we hope to one day remove stigmas surrounding issues such as mental illness. Through careful conversation and, yes, realizing stuff, we can make the world a better place for so many in our community.