Romance Books Featuring Mental Illness

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I admit that I read romance books because I’m addicted to happily-ever-after stories, but the more I read romance, the more I also learn about human emotion, suffering and perseverance. Some of my best book teachers are books that feature real world issues affecting the main characters. One such issue that affects millions in this country is mental illness where 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental illness during their lifetime and 1 in 25 experience a serious mental illness.*

To help raise awareness to this very important health topic, I’ve put together a list of my favorite romance books that feature characters living with a mental health condition. 

The authors of these books not only write creative storylines with exquisite prose, but they also write realistic characters showcasing what it’s like to live with a specific mental health disorder. They don’t perpetuate stereotypes about these disorders but portray them in the most humanistic way to shed light on topics which aren’t always discussed due to stigma, shame or discrimination. 

Reading these books has taught me a lot about various mental health disorders – how they can affect a person personally but also how their illness may impact his or her relationships. Mental illness can be isolating but it is also very common. Any way that we can bring greater awareness to this important health topic, even in romance books, is a win-win.

Each of the romance books below feature a different mental health disorder, and are books that I highly recommend reading! Check them out, learn something that you may not already know and help raise awareness to this important health topic.

Beard in Mind by Penny Reid – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Penny Reid pens what she calls smart romance. After reading one of her books I always feel like I’ve learned something new about human psychology. Beard in Mind is a book in her widely popular Winston Brother series but can easily be read as a standalone. In it we meet Shelly Sullivan, an artist and car mechanic who is living with obsessive compulsive disorder. Her obsessive compulsive disorder makes it difficult for her to be touched by other people and she has obsessive thoughts about those closest to her getting hurt. 

Reid gives us such a strong character in Shelly while subtly teaching us about the complexities of this disorder as well as the stigma that can follow it. Beard in Mind is a thoughtful book that gives such a wonderful, unique portrayal to this mental health disorder.

Dirty Letters by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward – Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I didn’t anticipate the focus on these prevalent mental health disorders when I first picked up Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward’s romance, Dirty Letters, but they wrote a compelling character in Luca who struggles with post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

In high school, Luca survived an accident at a club which killed her best friend. Ever since the accident, she has lived with severe anxiety where she cannot be around crowds of people. The best part of this book for me was the relationship between Luca and her therapist and how he helped her make continued progress managing her anxiety. 

Fall by Kristen Callihan – Depression and Attempted Suicide

Depression, like any mental health condition, can affect anyone – no matter how big or small your bank account and no matter if your face is plastered across magazines and adored by fans. 

Jax Blackwood is a popular rock star who battles depression, unbeknownst to his bandmates until one of them finds him after his attempted suicide. This book follows after his attempted suicide while he’s trying to manage his depression and find his footing. 

This book explores how one can feel lonely and struggle with depression even while surrounded by great friends. It is very easy for people who have mental illness to struggle silently alone or to hide it from others. I loved the relationship that developed in this book but it also looked at how friendships are impacted with mental illness, especially attempted suicide.

Real by Katy Evans – Bipolar Disorder 

Katy Evans blew me away with her book, Real, which features an up and coming boxer who has bipolar disorder. Remington has been living with bipolar disorder for some time and has been doing so without the use of medication. This story shows the mania and depression cycles often associated with bipolar disorder and how these swings can impact a person’s life. 

Remington has people around him who know about his illness and help him manage it, but when he meets Brooke he wants her to get to know him beyond his illness. He wants something real between them that isn’t influenced by his disorder. He wants to be known for him and not the mood swings that he experiences as a result of bipolar disorder. 

As someone who wasn’t very familiar with bipolar disorder before reading this book, Real gave me a glimpse into what it means to live with this mental health condition. It was a great read that I highly recommend.

*https://www.nami.org/mhstats

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