As someone involved in the field I’ve come to realize the value of comics that deal with Mental Health. Comics and Graphic Novels do what many of the great books on the topic do not – they provide illustrations, a visual representation of feelings and experiences that are often incomprehensible when explained only verbally. Mental Illness is complex and dynamic, and sometimes it’s best explained using as many mediums as possible.
If you’re looking for a place to start, check out these great titles:
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Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
This is probably one of the more well known titles on this list. Hyperbole and a Half is a widely popular blog written and illustrated by Allie Brosh. In 2013, Allie released a collection of new (and old) illustrated essays (or webcomics…if you must) that combine wit with brutal honesty in a very captivating way. Her chapters on Depression are by far what stand out most and I guarantee that anyone who has dealt with Depression themselves, or has had someone close to them experience depression will gain a lot from reading this book.
In Psychiatric Tales Darryl Cunningham uses his experience working in a psychiatric ward to help depict a very real account of mental illness. In each chapter we are introduced to a different mental illness from the view of the individual suffering from the mental illness and the people close to them. Cunningham also provides commentary on the needless stigma surrounding mental illness. This is a must read for everyone, not just those interested in or dealing with mental health issues.
Marbles is Ellen Forney’s journey to find balance. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at thirteen, Ellen set out to learn all she could about bipolar disorder and find a way to balance her mental health and creativity. This book is a different take on the mental health memoir – approaching the subject as an artist struggling to maintain her passion for creativity while achieving mental stability.
Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole is a story of two adolescent step-siblings battling with mental illness and the trials of life as a teen. Our protagonists are Ruth and Perry – one is medicated and one is not, who each deal with their own delusions. This book is powerful, but heavy.
Olivier & Clem Martini explore schizophrenia from a family perspective in Bitter Medicine. Olivier was diagnosed with schizophrenia 10 years after his brother Ben. Throughout the family’s struggle to understand the devastating illness and navigate the less-than-ideal mental health care system Olivier drew. Bitter Medicine is a combination of Olivier’s drawings and Clem’s poetic retelling of their family’s experiences, several decades in the making.
Hannah Bradshaw brings to life the everyday struggle for survival that often comes with depression. Dark Early contains no words, and it doesn’t need them. You’re free to interpret the story however you wish. For anyone who has ever faced feelings of depression, or self-destruction – this book will feel very personal. For those lucky enough to have never dealt with depression, this book will be a deeply moving glimpse at the life of those that do.
While the topic of mental health may not seem like a starting point for reading comics, I’ve realized over the years… especially volunteering in a patient library, that what draws us to books of any kind is often how we’re feeling. If you’re struggling with mental illness, these comics and graphic novels are a great reminder that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling. You’re never alone.
If you have any recommendations for comics or graphic novels that deal with mental health, let me know in the comments.