Guest post by Hannah Hearts Romance, @hannahheartsro1
Mental health in Romance
I love that so many authors are writing stories that show how mental illness impacts people and relationships. Too often in other genres, the “realistic” depictions of mental health challenges lean toward despair and hopelessness. In romance, even if the stories get dark we know we are heading toward a happy ending. Considering how many of us have struggled with mental health (whether diagnosed or not), it can be so healing and comforting to see those characters find love and belonging.
For my official #RomBkLove post I want to highlight books that include descriptions of mental health treatment or depict therapy on-page. Although by nature fictional therapy has to focus on moving the story forward more than the accuracy of the therapeutic techniques, I think that positive portrayals of mental health treatment can help demystify the process and even encourage people to seek therapy!
A Tiny Piece of Something Greater by Jude Sierra -- Reid is at a point in his mental health recovery journey that he knows he needs to make a change. He leaves his strained relationship with his parents and his codependent ex-boyfriend behind and heads down to Florida, where he meets Brazilian dive instructor Joaquim. Back home, everyone only knows Reid in relation to his mental illness but Joaquim only sees Reid. This book is surprisingly soft considering that Reid has been dealing with some serious challenges including self-harm and suicidal thoughts. He was in residential treatment and continues to participate in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and takes medication. I love the conversations between Reid and Joaquim as Reid starts to feel safe enough to share that part of himself with Joaquim. (CW: descriptions of depressive and hypomanic mood episodes, non-suicidal self-harm, anxiety and panic attack, reference to past suicidal ideation, MC was in codependent relationship)
Empty Net by Avon Gale -- I love the way MM sports romance can really tackle the issue of toxic masculinity and how it negatively impacts the mental health of athletes. In Empty Net, Laurent is traded to the team of his archnemesis, Isaac. Well, really the whole team is his nemesis due to Laurent’s history of “despicable” behavior. But turns out Laurent is escaping demons of his own and struggles with a significant dose of self-loathing. As Isaac starts to break down Laurent’s walls and Laurent learns to care for himself, their bond becomes stronger than anything they’ve experienced before. This book has one of the most realistic portrayals of therapy that I’ve read in romance. It’s somewhat truncated for (I assume) plotting purposes, but I would totally refer someone to the therapist in this book! (CW: descriptions of past physical/emotional abuse, homophobia and homophobic slurs, references to conversion therapy, character used to be homeless, character with eating disorder and self harm (shown on-page), on-page physical fights/assault)
Equivalent Exchange by Christina C. Jones -- This was one of the first romances with on-page therapy I read and is a long-standing favorite. Keris has left an abusive relationship and is looking for a fresh start. She ends up working for Laken as a graphic designer for his brewery. They both go through a lot in this book, but one of the things I love about it is (I will never phrase this better than in my original review, so pardon me as I steal from myself) it’s about imperfect people being imperfect together and demanding growth of each other. I love that Keris feels no shame about going back to her therapist when she knows she needs some more support. (CW: descriptions of past abusive relationship, sexual assault, past child abuse, addiction and overdose death, parental death (happens in course of story), infertility, MC is divorced)
I can’t wait to see what everyone else recommends for this prompt. I’m always looking for more books that address mental health, and so many romance authors are doing it so well! And in case anyone is inspired to try therapy for themselves, I wanted to include a few resources to check out:
Inclusive Therapists( inclusivetherapists.com)
Melanin and Mental Health (melaninandmentalhealth.com)
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (nqttcn.com)
Open Path Psychotherapy Collective (openpathcollective.org)