About the Grant
One of the most exciting literary trends observed in the early 21st century is the surge in popularity of graphic novels. These full-length books, whereby panel-style illustrations and text are combined to tell a complete story, are now often found on the most prominent shelves in bookstores and libraries.
In recent years a number of graphic novels have been published that document people’s experiences with health and illness. The intersection of graphic novels and medical topics continues to gain momentum. Often referred to as “graphic medicine,” this field has attracted broad readership, including: patients, who find company in seeing their own experiences put to the page; caregivers, who long to understand what their loved ones are experiencing; and medical professionals, who hope to better care for their patients.
The purpose of this project was to document graphic novels that focus on a specific, yet common medical issue: mental illness. Given the fact that approximately one in five adults experiences mental illness in any given year1, it is safe to say that its impact is both deep and wide.
Thankfully, there are a number of excellent graphic novels that focus on mental illness. For example, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me, a 2008 graphic novel by Ellen Forney, tells the story of woman who discovers she has bipolar disorder, then must grapple with the torrent of emotions that accompanies her diagnosis. Glyn Dillon’s 2012 novel The Nao of Brown deftly tackles OCD, while Katie Green’s 2013 novel Lighter Than My Shadow follows a girl experiencing anorexia. Contained within this site, you will find detailed annotations of these titles plus 43 others.
Although we hope everyone will enjoy this website, we anticipate it will have particular benefit for three user groups.
Experiencing mental illness can be extremely isolating. Many of those affected feel totally alone, struggling to convey the way they feel to family and friends. Meanwhile, friends and family experience their own set of challenges, as mental illness can be very hard to understand for those who have not experienced it themselves. For both patients and caregivers, graphic novels offer a compelling solution. In seeing their struggles portrayed by the books’ protagonists, patients know they are not alone in their struggles. Caregivers benefit from a window into what their loved one is experiencing, allowing them to develop better understanding.
As teachers in a medical school, we have observed how easily student doctors gravitate toward the clinical aspect of their studies. Reminding them of the humanistic side of the diseases they are studying will help them develop into empathetic doctors who willingly connect with their patients on a personal level. Even after medical school, clinicians benefit from such a reminder. Graphic novels are a great way to convey humanistic lessons, as they offer “…new insights into the personal experience of illness (especially regarding concerns patients might not mention in a clinical setting) and misconceptions about disease and treatment that could affect compliance and prognosis.” 2
Librarians have an ethical responsibility to connect the public to appropriate resources. However, the task is not always easy. This is especially true today, as the information explosion has greatly expanded librarians’ purview. Graphic novels, in particular, pose a challenge for librarians with limited exposure to comics, as their unfamiliarity with the medium may prevent them from recommending graphic novels to patrons. This project can help librarians become familiar with how to recommend this specialized resource to a population in need.
Even within the mental health community, there is still debate over what conditions can be defined as “mental illness.” This could be due to the fact that our scientific understanding of many psychological issues is still a bit muddy, thusly, the way that we perceive these conditions is fairly subjective.
For simplicity’s sake, the mental illnesses we considered for inclusion are those suggested by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. According to their website, mental health conditions include: ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Dissociative Disorders, Early Psychosis and Psychosis, Eating Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, and Schizophrenia.3
Once we determined that a book featured one of the 12 mental illnesses listed above, we applied additional filters, including form and availability. Only graphic novels in print were considered. For this reason, manga titles were included, while digital comics, zines, and short-form comics were not. Additionally, we checked to see that each title was easily accessible, which was accomplished by examining publication status and availability at major public library districts.
It should be noted that this project concluded in late 2017. For that reason, there may be newly released titles that fit the above inclusion criteria, but are not reflected on the website.
This project was generously funded by a Carnegie-Whitney Grant, which is administered by the American Library Association’s Publishing Committee. For more information about the grant, please visit their website.
1 Mental health by the numbers. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers. Published 2015. Accessed November 1, 2016.
2 Green M, Myers K. Graphic medicine: Use of comics in medical education and patient care. BMJ. March 3, 2010; 340.
3 Mental health conditions. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions. Published 2016. Accessed November 1, 2016.