Lancaster University: Lancaster develops the world’s first collective graphic novel about student mental health

The world’s first digital and interactive graphic novel memoir in English about students’ lived experiences of mental health, developed by a team of students and researchers at Lancaster University, will be launched at a symposium this week.

A graphic novel memoir uses comics-like illustrations to visually narrate the experiences from an authentic perspective of the author(s).

The 140-page graphic novel memoir “Things and the mind” shows and tells how diverse spaces and things – such as university library, gym, the natural environment, technology, washing machine and personal accessories – play a strong role in students’ mental health experiences!

Nine willing students, who had prior and/or ongoing struggles with mental health, shared their subjective accounts in the novel of how things and environments affected or affect their wellbeing.

Three alumni opted to share their full names as co-creators: Monika Conti (the project’s Research Assistant), Chloé Duggan and Phoebe Walsh, although all stories feature agreed pseudonyms.

The symposium introduces the graphic novel and its interactive digital resource, in conversation with different stakeholders, such as HE policy, mental health services, and the creative arts representatives.

The interactive elements of the digital novel will support readers in learning more about mental health and provide opportunities for readers’ feedback.

In that way, the digital resource creates an ongoing potential for impact in an effort to improve students’ lives and mental health.

The novel and the research is directed and edited by the research project Principal Investigator Dr Nataša Lacković and illustrated by artist and Lancaster University graphic design alumnus Andi Setiawan.

A Lancaster University team, including Dr Lacković, Dr Liz Brewster and Dr Ann-Marie Houghton, is currently developing the digital resource and its application through a series of knowledge and practice exchange workshops with stakeholders (youth charities, wellbeing services, health practitioners, teachers, artists).

The project grant was awarded by SMaRTeN, the UK’s largest student mental health network funded by the UK Research and Innovation and the ongoing Lancaster’s ESRC Impact Accelerator Account grant.

The link to the novel will exist as a standalone URL and will be featured on Lancaster, SMaRTeN and relevant external web pages, available upon the end of the impact project in January 2022.

Said Dr Lacković: “This interactive digital resource is a research outcome that celebrates the potential of digital and medical humanities, and the arts in general, in relevant stakeholders’ education, policy and professional development, towards making a positive impact in students’ and young people’s mental health.”