Cartoonist draws guides to help children talk about mental illness

(U.S.) – The Center for Cartoon Studies is known for creating comics that present complicated information in clear, easy to understand ways.

In 2019, the center released a graphic guide to Democracy and Government. Now, they are collaborating with a mental health organization in Ohio and with Mass. cartoonist Cara Bean to produce a new guide titled, Let’s Talk About It.

The idea was formulated when the team responsible for addressing the needs of local young people at Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery (StarkMHAR) was looking for innovative ways to engage and educate middle and high school students. During their idea development, the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in Vermont came up as a potential partner. CCS had recently found a way to make government and civics lessons appealing through a comic book, and StarkMHAR thought that could certainly translate to mental health topics, too.

The connection was made, and before long mental health experts, educators, and cartoonists were all collaborating. Let’s Talk About It: A Graphic Guide To Mental Health is a 24-page comic that will be distributed to every middle school student in Stark County, Ohio, and will be available for free online at cartoonstudies.org/mentalhealth.

Let’s Talk About It: A Graphic Guide To Mental Health is designed to destigmatize the conversation around mental health addressing everything from stress to anxiety to addiction. The book also looks at how the brain affects behavior, shares ways to stay mentally healthy, and directs readers towards resources for those who need help.

The comic’s lead cartoonist, Cara Bean, is also a former public school teacher and is currently working on a graphic novel that speaks directly to kids about mental health. The piece was edited by cartoonist and CCS director James Sturm who was recently awarded a 2020-21 Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University to create a comics about the US healthcare system “Cartooning is an ideal medium to connect with younger readers and Cara’s work brims with empathy and warmth,” says Sturm. “She literally creates an inviting space to learn about mental health.”

Although this project was underway prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for creative ways to interact with young people about their mental health is paramount at this time. In general, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed anxiety, and 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed depression. Furthermore, Stark County, Ohio experienced a youth suicide cluster in 2017-2018; 13 young people lost their lives to suicide.

“Research will tell you that when young people themselves gain an interest in solutions to problems that affect them and their peers, that is when you start to see meaningful change,” said John Aller, PCC, LICDC, executive director of StarkMHAR.

For more information about this Applied Cartooning project visit: cartoonstudies.org/mentalhealth

For more information about Cara Bean’s work visit: carabeancomics.com

For more information about CCS’s democracy comic visit: cartoonstudies.org/democracy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

 

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