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Psychiatric Tales: Eleven Graphic Stories About Mental Illness Hardcover – February 1, 2011

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this debut book, Cunningham tells his reader right away that he has a message to impart. Having worked for years as a health care assistant in a hospital's psychiatric ward, he states his intent to counter the stigma surrounding mental illness and to represent the patients who suffer from "this most mysterious group of illnesses." The down and dirty truth about what it takes to care for dementia patients, the acts that self-harming patients are capable of, and the conundrum of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia all make for powerful, informative, and sometimes difficult reading. Cunningham's message, that "a mental illness is a brain disease just as a stroke or a brain tumor is a brain disease," is delivered in direct, no-nonsense language, while black and white drawings convey the hectic life of the disordered mind. Cunningham frequently speaks directly to sufferers, telling them that their symptoms are not their fault, that there are ways of dealing with them and simply that "you can survive." Speaking with compassion and clarity, Cunningham tells of his own struggles with severe anxiety and depression. creating a valuable tool for both those within the mental health profession and casual readers who may know someone with mental illness. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

This gem of a book examines a wide range of mental-health issues as well as Cunningham�s personal experiences with mental illness. Chapters cover dementia, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide, antisocial disorder, and, perhaps most movingly, Cunningham�s own struggle to overcome depression. He also notes important historical figures who suffered from mental illness, such as Winston Churchill, who is now believed to have been bipolar; Brian Wilson, who suffered from hallucinations; and Judy Garland, who was beset by anxiety and depression. The concise and poignant tales, while self-contained, build upon each other and create a framework that allows Cunningham to effectively question the stigmas associated with mental illness. His inviting cartooning style mixes contrasting backgrounds with simple line drawings that leave a stark impression. The overall message�that mental illness is biochemical in origin and deserves the same kind of sympathy as other serious illnesses�is one that deserves to be heard. --Stephen Weiner

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192784
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192786
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Sarah McIntyre on May 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I've been looking forward to this book for some time, and it's as impressive as I'd been hoping. In one sense, the book is a fascinating handbook, focusing on different kinds of mental illness in each chapter. These include dementia, self-harming, depression, anti-social personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide, and great figures in history who've suffered mental illnesses. But it also follows Darryl Cunningham's own journey, starting as a health care assistant and then training to become a mental health nurse until the strain of the course threw him into severe depression and he had to stop.

But all the years of working as a carer gave him a deep insight into the lives of people suffering different conditions and provided him with real-life work anecdotes that makes him able to portray them as real people, not just clinical conditions. And it also makes the reader care about Cunningham as a health worker, realizing the hard-core things these carers deal with, and the emotional beatings they go through. But the book's not a request for for us to pity the writer; his straightforward, almost dead-pan voice at times focuses us as readers on the universality of mental health problems, and emphasizes the need to be able to talk about these things in a way that doesn't stigmatize people for being ill, in the way we wouldn't if someone had, say, a broken leg. A deep sense of empathy is the thing that came through most clearly to me in this book, and the last chapter clinches it, when Cunningham allows us to see his own struggle with depression and the hope he gives to other people who suffer it.

The artwork in this book reads very easily and clearly, and provides an excellent introduction to graphic novels for readers who are not very familiar with the medium.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By on February 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When it comes to understanding mental illness, most people fall into the category of "curious voyeur." It's undeniably interesting to watch the erratic and unusual behavior of the mentally ill from a distance, which is why we have shows like Hoarders and Intervention. So, while one's own voyeuristic inclinations might compel you to pick up this graphic novella, there's far more value to be found inside, even if some of it might be unintentional.

Darryl Cunningham, the author and illustrator, spent a number of years working toward becoming a certified psychiatric nurse before quitting the program due to the emotional toll it took on him, and some of these stories from this time are recounted here. Using a cubist, art brut style, he begins by describing a few cases in which he was involved, and all of them are genuinely interesting, if extremely minimalist. Not a lot of verbal details are given, just a barest summary of notable points, paired with a few chunky, black-and-white pictures. Each of these stories is interrupted with a semi-clinical explanation of why each patient behaves the way he or she does, which is valuable information. It works to explain the fact that mental illness is genuinely a biological problem, and not as it is commonly perceived. The subjects are not lazy or stupid and do not have anything that can be self-medicated--these are biological issues that cannot be solved by simply forcing the patient to think differently. Psychiatric Tales does a great job explaining this, and it would likely serve as an excellent tool for anyone who is coping with mental illness in their own family.

The chapters that only describe a mental illness, without tying it to an actual, concrete subject or experience, are slightly less effective.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By sainyavaarai on October 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Darryl Cunningham's Psychiatric Tales is a descriptively written and jarringly drawn work. I write this review as someone currently residing in a psychiatric treatment center and someone who has seen the inside of locked psychiatric wards firsthand.* His structure is sound and his information is solid. All in all, Cunningham writes a good book.

What troubles me about this book is the way Cunningham chooses to position himself for the reader. In this book, Cunningham is either a mental health worker or a person with mental illness. In the portions with the narrator as mental health worker, the portions where he shares his patients' stories, I found myself irate with Cunningham. Apart from a few factors of time and location, I could have easily been one of Cunningham's patients, and if I would have read this book, I would feel immensely exposed and robbed. All hypotheticals aside, as a "patient", my story is a very important part of my power and dignity. It is not for Cunningham, or anyone else, to take away and make their own.

The last chapter of the book, however, focuses on Cunningham's struggles with anxiety and depression. This part of the book may serve to humanize Cunningham or identify him as a part of the sufferers, but his explication of an obviously trying time in his life seems gestural rather than heartfelt. Cunningham's emotional simplification of a very complicated way of being seems more to serve a need to legitimate his spokesmanship for those with mental illness. He seems to do his own story a disservice in this way.

Ultimately, I think this book does the mental illness world more good than harm. I think the issues are complicated and anyone who tries to tackle them is courageous. Though at the same time, I would have rather heard the story of Cunningham as a mental health worker or Cunningham as someone with anxiety/depression--not someone dealing in the stories or others.
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