The issue of self-harm and suicide in young people represents a serious mental health issue of priority given sharply rising rates in youth and the association with the risk of greater premature unnatural death.
Creative Communities will work with young people in Lambeth and Southwark with experiences of self-harm and suicidality, to create accessible digital materials, initially in the form of an online comic/zine that explores youth experiences of self-harm, recovery stories, positive coping skills and contact details for support services.
The project is led by the National and Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services at South London and the Maudsley NHS Trust and PositiveNegatives, a London-based, award-winning, not-for-profit organization that has created over 53 comics and other narrative media about social and humanitarian issues internationally.
Helping to communicate hidden issues
There are many mental health issues, which like self-harm, are associated with significant stigma, are often hidden by young people, and do not fit neatly within the responsibilities of individual families, social care, mental health or education services to try to intervene.
Using a co-design approach, the project will place the voices of young people with mental-health-related issues at the centre of the development of digital psychoeducational resources in the form of an online and printable comic/zine, that might be used to create a ‘digital library’ of resources to be used by young people, mental health services, families, and schools to promote awareness and early response to serious mental health issues, and to improve general understanding within the community about the experiences and support needs of young people.
It will initially involve up to 8 young people from diverse backgrounds (LGBTQ, neurodivergent and ethnic minority) who have already completed a programme of arts and psychology workshops for young women with a history of self-harm or suicide attempts.
Exploring the field of “graphic medicine”
Graphic medicine is an emerging field at the intersection of graphic narratives and health. There is developing evidence for the efficacy of comics as acceptable and effective teaching tools for adolescents, particularly those with lower levels of literacy who may be disenfranchised with the existing curriculum.
Young people’s consumption of information is principally online and the impact of Covid lockdown has created an even heightened requirement for digital teaching resources, particularly for subjects that require some level of mental health expertise. Digital platforms present opportunities to widen access to educational materials to promote mental health and there is a need for mental health experts to engage more fully with digital communities.
The grant provided by Maudsley Charity is supporting several innovations in this project – a co-design protocol for the creation of educational comics about mental health, with young people meaningfully involved from the outset; an output/asset that integrates psychological theory with established approaches to narrative storytelling through educational comics, and that might be a template for future comics/zines on varied mental health issues.