Our third panel from Brighton, addressing issues of depression and comics, ethical issues facing medical students, and perceptions of Downs Syndrome.
Use the Quicktime players below to view images along with the audio of each presentation.
If you don’t have Quicktime, you can listen to an audio-only version of the entire panel. See link at the end of this post.
First up is Marie-Jeanne (MJ) Jacob, presenting her talk, Dark Days: The Ethical Implications Surrounding Depression, and Comics Creation as Retaliation
Two years ago I began to brainstorm a comic discussing depression, as someone who both suffers from depression, and has been surrounded by people suffering from depression for all of my life. A few months ago the initial character designs began to take form, in close collaboration with my brother.
The ethical implications surrounding mental health, specifically depression, are complex, and I have had many misgivings about portraying others in their constant struggles with depression. While their stories by interacting with my own have become part of my narrative, I still need to treat them with respect and anonymity.
Depression is an illness traditionally suffered in silence, often a challenging subject to broach, however the use of the comic book medium allows for a treatment of the illness which takes advantage of this silence and lack of words surrounding depression, and the gestures and expressions that take their place. As a mode of narrative that balances text and image to form a dialogic work which is multi-layered, the comics medium can address depression in a variety of ways, incorporating humour while still exploring the seriousness of the illness, and allowing anonymity to the characters.
Briefly looking at the presence of depression in other comics, then discussing my own process of creation, I will address how comics are effective in portraying multiple perspectives when dealing with depression, from the point of view that it is not an illness that one overcomes, but that one learns to live with. I will introduce you to my characters, such as Byron the bipolar bear, who all suffer from depression, and are all continually learning to live with each other.
Next on this panel is Henny Beaumont with her presentation, Perceptions of Downs Syndrome. Henny writes,
[audio src="https://www.graphicmedicine.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Beaumont.m4a" /]
My graphic novel is about my experience of having a child with Down’s syndrome. Aside from an enlarged kidney spotted in an early scan, which we were told to ignore by the sonographer, I had no idea this was coming. The first part of the book explores the initial diagnosis; the insensitivity of some of the doctors and the ensuing shock. The narrative explores my emotional response to this situation. I hope to demonstrate that there are helpful and not so helpful ways, in which doctors and other health professionals can manage a difficult diagnosis and be involved. The story will show how I struggled to bond with my child, whose survival was in question before she faced heart surgery, and at the very least had a compromised future. My book will conclude with the conflict of deciding between mainstream and special school, and the meaning of inclusion.
In this presentation I show my experience of changing medical responses to my recurring depression. I will use my graphic comics work to show the differing treatments I received from the 1960s to the present. My story highlights changing attitudes within the medical profession and society. I use the comics form to highlight inherent ethical dilemmas, in particular the vogue for the ‘recovery paradigm’. In 1967, I was prescribed Serenid-D on which I hallucinated. Visits to an uncomprehending child psychiatrist were exacerbated by my mother’s anger at being interrogated independently; no one treating me guessed that she would visit her rage on me. R. D. Laing wrote in the same year: ‘It is tempting and facile to regard – persons – as only separate objects in space, who can be studied as any other natural objects can be studied.’ (Laing 1967) In the 1970s, the contraceptive Minovlar was a possible contributing factor to my suicidal depression; the disapproving way it was prescribed by my male GP reflected social attitudes to free contraception. When suicidal feelings returned this century, I found the available treatment much improved: non-judgmental counselling and CBT, and the SRI escitalopram. In Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, Judy Turner-Crowson and Jan Wallcraft ask: ‘Is there a danger that an overemphasis on recovery could be an additional burden for people who do not feel they are in “recovery,” whereas language such as surviving, coping, or developing strategies for living is more neutral and accepting?’ (Winter 2002 Vol. 25 No. 3 p250) Stories like mine don’t have tick-box endings. I don’t fit the recovery paradigm, which originated in the US in the 1970s, or the interpretation of it in practice. It implies finality, yet the ethical dilemma is that perhaps people never recover: recovery should not be the only aim.
Last on this panel is Melanie Sustersic presenting The Transparent Wall: The Journey of a Young Medical Student at the Crossroads of Ethical Questions.
She wrote of her presentation,
Medical studies are often hard on students. After a theoretical and academic learning about the human body, they are overnight required to make medical decisions that involve the lives of patients. They find themselves immersed in the heart of ethical issues without hindsight and experience to deal with: the confrontation with illness and death, the announcement of serious diagnosis, having to mediate between the patient and his family, the hospital hierarchy and power issues. Faced with these difficulties, some stop their studies. Others travel or write comics as an outlet for thoughts. It’s in this view that was written “The Transparent Wall”, a comic published in 2005. The Transparent Wall is about a medical student who, because of ethical issues in his job, decides to go to Argentina where he discovers art therapy. In this presentation we show that the comic can serve as a laboratory for artistic, philosophical and ideological experimentation, where ethical issues could be brought to the forefront. It is a great way to express what the role as doctor does not allow to express: a critical standpoint towards the medical practice, the boundaries inherited from the biomedical model, such as the opposition between mind and body; and last but not least the interest for new therapeutic alternatives (dance therapy, music therapy, hypnosis)…
The audio-only of this entire panel can be listened to here: