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Exhibitions: Care and Custody

Public Programming Example for Care and Custody

Zine Workshop: Creating Personal Health Narratives

Participants use NLM resources on mental health and healthcare topics to create zines that express their personal mental health narratives.

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    • Personal health narratives are powerful tools that advocates of mental healthcare can use to highlight the importance of their own voices and choices in care and recovery.
    • NLM health information resources can provide context, research and healthcare navigation tools that support self-knowledge and decision-making.
    • Participants will create simple, printer paper magazines made by hand and photocopied that can uplift information, experiences, and perspectives that are not widely represented — and explore NLM mental health information resources as an act of self-discovery, self-care, and self-expression.
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    • Identify personally useful, reliable, trusted mental health information resources available from the National Library of Medicine.
    • Engage audiences with personal mental health narratives and empower them to create their own narratives using facts, texts, and graphics from NLM health information resources through the medium of a zine.
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    • Participants of all ages can enjoy zine workshops, but they are particularly popular with youth and young adult audiences.
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  • MedlinePlus provides trusted, up-to-date health information for health professionals and consumers alike. Below are specific topics, conditions, and wellness issues related to mental health:

    Behaviors and Mental Disorders clinical trials at is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.

    Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) in NLM Digital Collections provides online access to images from NLM’s historical collections including fine art, photographs, engravings, and posters that illustrate the social and historical aspects of medicine dating from the 15th to 21st century.

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    • College creative writing departments
    • Comic book stores
    • Comic-Con or zine fairs
    • Disability rights organizations
    • Exhibition and gallery spaces
    • Graphic novelists and cartoonists
    • Mental health advocacy organizations
    • Museum or art instititutes
    • Storytelling program organizers
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  • Time

    • Planning: 5-10 hours
    • Workshop duration: 2-3 hours


    • A variety of on-hand supplies can be used; no funds are required to run this program as described

    Suggested supplies (provide these or distribute a supply list)

    • Blank standard A4 (8.5x11) paper or pre-printed templates (search online for “zine templates”)
    • Scissors
    • Something to write / draw with such as pens, colored pencils, crayons, and markers
    • Tablets, computers, or smartphones for participants to access NLM health information resources (provided by you or by participants)
    • Optional:
      • Graphic medicine books, comics, or zines in your collection for reference
      • Old magazines (with lots of pictures for people to cut out and include in their book if desired)
      • Participants may bring their own photographs, drawings, etc. to collage
      • Printer to print images from NLM sites
      • Rubber stamps, glitter, paint chips, or other art supplies

    Before the program

    • Identify program partners and venues, as applicable
    • Familiarize yourself with the Care + Custody exhibition
    • Select one or more NLM health information resource(s) to highlight, and be comfortable navigating through the resource(s)
    • Practice making your own zine
    • Compile links, supplies, and sample zines or comics, as applicable
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    1. Begin the program with a walkthrough of the Care + Custody exhibition, an introduction to telling personal stories of illness and health, and the purpose of the program.
    2. Introduce the prompt(s) and demonstrate ways participants can engage with NLM health information resources in their zine-making. Use one or more of the following or another:
      • Describe a situation where a healthcare provider made you feel particularly cared for, or what would have made a negative experience better, while highlighting how others can self-advocate using NLM’s tools for talking to doctors and patients’ rights.
      • At what points have you felt that you did or did not have a personal voice and choice in your care or recovery? What resources would help people better understand this mental health topic? Teens can use a variety of tools to put feelings into words and know when and how to get help; create a step-by-step guide for how a teen can find support.
      • Is there a depiction of mental health in film, television, or a book that particularly spoke to you or angered you? How did it make you feel? Print and collage NLM’s free and public domain graphics to illustrate your feelings.
    3. Give people a few minutes to brainstorm and plan out how they will convey their personal narrative over the panels of their zines. Provide laptops, tablets, or smartphones for participants, or have them use their own at this point. There is no “right” way to fill up the pages of a zine, but commonly, zines will have a front cover, a table of contents, a body, and a back cover. Remind them that a zine can be powerful regardless of artistic or literary ability; the focus is on telling our health stories and providing information to others through one of the following methods, a combination of these, or another of their choosing:
      • Manifestos
      • Personal essays or experiences
      • Collages of images and text captions
      • Sketches or comics
      • Poetry
    4. Create! A majority of the program will be creating the comic or zine. If you are not familiar with one-page zine-making, be sure to view a tutorial (easily found by searching “zine tutorial” online) to best guide participants in making zine pages that are in order and facing the same direction. Staff should circulate around the room throughout the process asking questions and assisting if needed. Encourage idea-sharing and collaboration among participants. Perhaps play music in the background to help with the creative atmosphere
    5. At the end of the program, invite people to share out their creation or experiences in creating. Did they discover anything interesting about the NLM health information resource they used? How did they feel was the best way to present the information in the zine?
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    • Destigmatize mental health by showing examples of how artists and authors have addressed sensitive and personal topics, welcoming participants to share their zines, and having no taboo topics.
    • Make sharing, displaying, and completing works optional and non-competitive.
    • Guide participants to relevant health information resources without judgment.
    • If possible, identify a staff member at your organization or a volunteer from a local mental health advocacy group who is comfortable offering their firsthand experiences to participants.
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  • While many libraries have robust zine programming and partnerships, others are just beginning to explore this exciting genre. If zines are new to your organization or to you personally, here are some resources that can provide context, exemplary mental health-related zines, peer-reviewed research supporting the impact of graphic medicine and personal narratives, and examples of successful zine programming in action.

    • A selection of PubMed peer-reviewed articles on the importance of graphic medicine, personal narratives, and mental health:
      • Anderson PF, Wescom E, Carlos RC. “Difficult Doctors, Difficult Patients: Building Empathy.” J Am Coll Radiol. 2016 Dec;13(12 Pt B):1590-1598. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2016.09.015. PMID: 27888946.
      • Venkatesan S, Saji S. “Drawing the mind: Aesthetics of representing mental illness in select graphic memoirs.” Health (London). 2019 May 13:1363459319846930. doi: 10.1177/1363459319846930. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 31081388.
      • Hernandez MY, Organista KC. “Qualitative Exploration of an Effective Depression Literacy Fotonovela with at Risk Latina Immigrants.” Am J Community Psychol. 2015 Sep;56(1-2):79-88. doi: 10.1007/s10464-015-9729-8. PMID: 25987298.
      • Corrigan PW, Powell KJ, Fokuo JK, Kosyluk KA. “Does humor influence the stigma of mental illnesses?” J Nerv Ment Dis. 2014 May;202(5):397-401. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000138. PMID: 24727719; PMCID: PMC4059196.
      • For more, search the following Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) or tailor this search in PubMed: (comix OR comic OR comics OR cartoon OR cartoons OR manga OR “visual narrative” OR “visual narratives” OR “sequential art” OR graphic narrative OR graphic narratives OR “graphic medicine” OR “comic book” OR “comic books” OR “graphic novel” OR “graphic novels” OR photonovel OR photonovels) OR "Caricatures as Topic"[Mesh] AND “mental health.”
    • Background information and selections of mental health zines:
    • Real-life examples of zine programming
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Last Reviewed: June 7, 2021