Recently I had a long written dialogue with my friend and colleague Helen Spandler about the ways in which zines, comics, and graphic books can be helpful ways of communicating about mental health. This is happening as I continue working on my next Icon graphic guide which focuses on mental health (and hopefully another zine along the way also).
HS: Our project is about zines that ‘craft contention about mental health knowledge and practice’. That could mean all kinds of things, but it’s essentially about challenging what is commonly understood about madness or distress, including from the so-called psy professionals (psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, etc). I know your background is in psychology. There’s been a lot of ‘critical psychology’ these past few decades and we’ve seen quite a bit of change. Given all this, how far do you feel challenging these ideas and practices is still important?
M-JB: Oh, I think it’s still very important. The people I mostly speak to are therapists and readers of my work, most of whom have never come across these more critical ideas. I think the standard perspectives you get around mental health – if you take a counselling course or if you pick up a self-help book – are still very basic. That’s partly why I’m so passionate about getting these more critical and social justice ideas – about mental health and other topics – out there in accessible ways like comics, zines, self-help books, and podcasts.
HS: Are there particular issues/experiences around mental health that you think need to be challenged or contested right now?
M-JB: I think the mainstream understanding of mental health is still very binary: you’re either someone with mental illness, which means that it’s not your fault, but you need expert help in order to get ‘better’. Or you’re not someone with mental illness, which means that your struggles are your own fault and you need to pull your socks up – do mindfulness, have better stress management, that kind of thing. I’m very keen to challenge that binary in my work. Read more…