Covers of mental health novels

Author: Wendy Tuxworth

We’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover – but everyone totally does. And I think nowadays, when people can spend their money on all sorts of entertainment, book covers are vital for drawing people in. Beautiful covers can be displayed as art, as well as being Instagram-friendly.

So, keeping all of this in mind, how do the covers of books about mental health measure up? I’m focusing on fiction books, though if you’d like me to do another version of this post with nonfiction, let me know!

Trigger warnings: covers that depict self-injury, mentions of self-injury and suicide, overdosing

Colours: 

Colour schemes were definitely the first things that sprang to mind when I started thinking about this topic. Generally, I would say, novels about mental health go down two routes: ‘depressing’ colours such as grey, black, and blue, or really bright over-saturated colours such as red. I think that plays into the general stereotypes about mental health books – people think that they’re going to be depressing, or full of really dramatic (and potentially bloody) events, such as self-injury or suicide. With the red on the cover of Everything Here is Beautiful the red really reminds me of a warning sign. It is bright and overwhelming, and I find it a bit unsettling. Whereas the black and white of The Trick Is to Keep Breathing just makes me think that this book is gonna be really depressing.

White women: 

So there’s a stereotype that mental health issues only affect pretty, middle-class white women, and it really shows on book covers. There were so many book covers that I could have chosen to show you, particularly in the case of fiction that looks at eating disorders. There’s something about pretty white women looking out from a cover in vague distress that seems to signify that this is a book about mental health. In all my looking, I think I saw one book which had a woman of colour on the cover, and I don’t remember any with people of other genders. Of course, this reflects on the fact that the majority of mental health books are about white women, which is a problem in the publishing industry as a whole. But I do think that cover designs are capitalising on that fact.

Potentially triggering material:

Finally, here’s the reason that I started thinking about this topic. There are some books that take the mental health themes even further, and depict self-injury and suicide attempts on the front cover. (The main character of Cracked attempts to complete suicide by overdosing on pills). Now, I don’t know about you, but I am personally not very comfortable with this. First of all, these covers could be really triggering for someone who is dealing with these things themselves. Having this potentially triggering content on the actual page is fine, because all three of the books explain in their blurbs that they are going to be talking about themes of self-injury and suicide. But to have it on the front cover? The imagery is inescapable.

What do you think? Are there any other things that mental health book covers have in common? I’ve been thinking about putting together a post of book covers that do not do these things – let me know if that would be interesting to you.

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