The impact of educational comics on feelings and attitudes towards health conditions

I’ve recently completed a small project funded by the Wellcome Trust to explore the impact of educational comics on feelings and attitudes towards health conditions. I interviewed 11 people who either had a health condition (physical or mental) themselves, or had a close relative with one.

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The findings confirmed previous research that educational comics can support understanding of factual health information through providing simple explanations free from jargon and through the effective use of images. However, they it also suggested that they can have an equal, or perhaps stronger, role in helping patients and their families to deal with the social and psychological issues associated with illness. There were many examples offered in the interviews illustrating how comics can offer reassurance, empathy and companionship through the use of narrative, humour, images and characterisation. It was also evident that comics can offer patients opportunities for greater self-awareness of their own attitudes and behaviour, as well as alternative viewpoints on their condition.

…it brought things up into my mind that were in my mind but…suppressed. Definitely has helped in that way… I try to think that I haven’t got it, so I was like, “I have got it and this is what I’ve got to deal with”. It made me realise that I’m doing alright considering…

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.

It did make me think more about my dad’s experience at that age, ‘cos he was at university when he was diagnosed, so the impact that would have had on him at that point, how that would have changed…

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However, using comics for health information isn’t unproblematic. One barrier is the lack of knowledge of, and access to, such comics. Even people who have been actively investigating their condition for a number of years were unaware of the availability of comics. Another problem is the common perception that they are only suited to light hearted or fantastic stories, or are just for children. But, although initial responses were often dismissive, it was evident from this research that opinions can quickly be changed through reading health education comics.

…comics can be more informative because in the past I’ve just seen them for entertainment, but I definitely think they can be more informative and be used in a really positive way…portraying serious information, but in a light-hearted sense.

A report of the findings can be downloaded here:

Sarah McNicol

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