Comics & healthcare education

Here’s a guest blog post from Sarah McNicol on her work using comics with patients and families: 

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I’m a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University and I’ve recently been working on a project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, looking into the possible use of educational comics among people with health conditions and their families. This was a small scoping project (which I’m hoping to develop further in the future), but it included interviews with patients and relatives of people with a range of physical and mental conditions.

The findings of my research suggest that comics can support understanding of factual health information through providing simple explanations free from jargon and through the effective use of images. However, they have an equal, or perhaps stronger, role to play in helping patients and their families to deal with the social and psychological issues associated with illness. Through the use of narrative, humour, images and characterisation, comics can offer reassurance, empathy and companionship. They can offer patients opportunities for greater self-awareness of their own attitudes and behaviour, as well as alternative viewpoints on their condition. Among family members, comics can lead to a better understanding of the issues their relative is facing and may prompt them to reflect on the ways in which they might best offer support. The open and accessible nature of comics means they may be an effective way to open up a dialogue, both within families and potentially between patients and healthcare professionals too.

However, the research also pointed out barriers to the wider use of comics for health education or information. One challenge is that the potential of comics to convey information about serious issues is not widely understood (especially among non-comics readers). Most of the interviewees initially associated comics with Marvel superheroes or the Beano. Knowledge of, and access to, health comics is another barrier. Even people who have been actively investigating their condition for a number of years were unaware of the availability of comics. Finally, the need for comics to present an overall positive message, while avoiding lapsing into clichés, was a theme in a number of interviews. My interviewees’ responses suggest that this can be a difficult balance to get right designing health education comics.

You can download copies of the full report at http://www.esri.mmu.ac.uk/resprojects/reports/report157.pdf or my contacting me at s.mcnicol@mmu.ac.uk

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