The mental health zines filling the gap that therapy doesn’t

From empathetic illustrations to helpful tips – here is a definitive list of the best DIY resources for self-care, support and intersectional debate

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Shit's Fucked
Shit's FuckedPhotography Micheal Seidel

At the intersection of self-advocacy and grassroots activism, zines and independent magazines have become an increasingly popular resource to find alternative narratives of mental health experiences. Long before Tumblr communities and awareness-raising hashtags, DIY press has been filling the gaps of mainstream media, infiltrating voices and inputs from the blind spot.

It was 1996 when Kathleen Hanna – the iconic feminist activist and musician with Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and currently, The Julie Ruin – released April Fool’s Day, a groundbreaking personal zine about her recovery from alcohol addiction. And the tradition of candid first-person takes still lives on, being at once a helpful coping strategy and a defiant act of resistance against stigma and isolation.

“In popular culture, I feel we tend to circle around what I see as the ‘book deal’ model of expressing and exploring mental health struggles, in the sense that one has to be privileged a fancy publishing platform to get their story heard,” says Bethany Lamont, founder of Doll Hospital, an art and literature journal on mental health, explored more below.

Zines and other independent outlets are necessary to expand coverage of lesser known realities, and promote a more inclusive approach to mental health care and survival. From comics to intersectional pamphlets about oppression, we celebrate International Zine Month with a round-up of some of our favourite titles tackling mental health.

DOLL HOSPITAL JOURNAL

This submission-based art and literature journal ventures into overlooked and trigger-warning worthy experiences of mental health. Founded in 2014, their second issue came out last December, including themes like mental health within women’s prisons, the intersection between mental health and physical disability and the stigma of mental health in Muslim society. As founder Bethany Lamont puts it: “No one was publishing the stories me and my loved ones needed to hear so it was like, why not do it ourselves?”

BAD THERAPY/RAD THERAPY

An illustrated journey through therapy that works and therapy that doesn’t. Cleverly split into a two-sided foldable, this zine prompts readers to think critically of their mental health needs and not just settle for whatever/whoever comes first. London-based multimedia artist and DIY publisher Rudy Loewe created this black-and-white autobiographical gem with a purpose: “I wanted to stress that I think it’s important that we find the right therapist for us, whilst being realistic about the fact that they are human.”

DESIGNING OUT SUICIDE

Following a friend’s suicide, Sheffield-based Lisa O'Hara launched this zine to raise awareness about mental health issues among women. Open to submissions, Designing Out Suicide is a forum for healing and discussion and a community resource. “Waiting lists can be long for proper mental health care. The workshops that support the making of the zine are a means of peer support in a non-hierarchical environment,” O’Hara says. “It’s good to share experiences or just get together to talk with no experts present.”

FEELING WORTHLESS?

The first – and so far, the best-selling – of an unofficial pocket-sized zine series for “quick-and-dirty use”, Feeling Worthless? by Boston-based LB Lee was born after a dangerous dissociative episode almost drove the author to jump off a bridge. It is a no-frills black-and-white worksheet to whip out of the wallet for some urgent self-care practice at times of crisis. It’s the twin to The Bad Day Book and cousin to Eat This Sandwich!, two mini zines of the same format meant for general crisis and food restriction urges.

BLACK WOMEN & SELF CARE: THOUGHTS ON MENTAL HEALTH, OPPRESSION, AND HEALING

Written and illustrated by Toronto-based artist Naomi Moyer, this zine articulates mental health in relation to oppression – whether it’s under capitalism, heteropatriarchy and/or neoliberalism. It tackles issues of anger, depression, PTSD and ways to deal with white supremacy. “There is a lot of shame dealing with mental health and to be vulnerable as a Black woman takes a bunch of courage,” says Moyer. “Together, we can support one another on our individual paths to healing and justice.”

SHIT’S FUCKED

A concise lesson in self-compassion, this is a zine about positive mental attitudes that deems itself as “a self-help guide for the punks, nerds, and malcontents.” Author Gina Sarti wrote its first edition – in 2011 – as a message in a bottle for an ex-boyfriend turned “crusty punk muse.” A second edition came out in 2013, and it’s still filled with straight to the point tips and little heartwarming reminders to brighten up the day a little and make it easier to keep your head up.

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