Anyone who knows me knows I love graphic novels and comics! You can imagine my extreme delight when I stumbled across this Graphic Medicine podcast, on Mental Health Comics, which then inspired this post. By the way, I cannot recommend this podcast episode enough for its examination of the mental health comics’ role as education, therapy delivery, economic resource (for its authors). You will also be impressed with the amount of energy, nuance and strategic thought which goes into their planning & production.
I see digital comics as an important component of digital psychoeducation. Their appeal is that of illustrated, aliterate, storytelling which uses:
- the image to enhance prose,
- the visual to reach the aliterate who prefers seeing over reading,
- plot over bare facts to teach emotionally, as only stories can, and
- still-life animation (yes, an oxymoron) to dimensionalize experience
This media format not only has underutilized potential in its original form as a comics but also as content integrations into apps, video games & simulations (which are both of forms of interactive comics).
I first became acquainted with mental health comics in the early 2000s when I was introduced to “The Secret of the Brain Chip, a Self Help Guide for People Experiencing Psychosis”, (2003) authored by Marc De Hert, Geerdt Magiels, and Erik Thys. This comic made the topic of mental illness accessible and more clear than this same information presented as scientific/medical prose. I also distinctly recall its chapter on famous, successful and creative people with mental disorders, positively impacted my own internal battle with stigma.
Shortly, thereafter, as part of my work as a pharma marketer, I became familiar with the work of MediKidz, a line of children’s health education comics, designed especially for children, and which included depression, ADHD and autism and which today can be purchased as used vintage editions, or in their new formats at Jumo Health. The beauty of this manifestation of digital mental health is that it is tailored for young people, educating them nearer to their initial socialization, and by extension that of society’s next generation. If there is a drawback, these materials are largely distributed post-diagnosis and can stand to be more broadly produced and distributed as a wellness vehicle.
Still later I became a fan of “depression comix” by Jonathan Clay, a serial comic strip which looks at the internal and immediate social experience of depression. This work, over time, has helped my empathy and moderated my own stigma. Jonathan Clay’s work can be supported via Patreon, and I recommend you join me in doing so if, after taking a look, you dig his work.
As a part of my regular graphic novel habit, carried on too expensively some months, via Comixology, Amazon Kindle’s online digital comics store, I’ve come across other titles that have continued to deepen my understanding of, and empathy for, not only mental disorders but more important those who suffer with and care for them. You can see this collection at my “Mental Health Comics” bookshelf on GoodReads.com.
I think every designer, content producer, and product manager in this space should be thinking about how to leverage the positive value of this form, and not just for children either. Give this thought, support (and integrate) the work of those who are doing this fabulous work, and by all means, reach to me if you want to discuss this topic more.