Can comic books help to prevent depression and promote better mental health?

Associated Press

Catch-It is an interactive online comic book that teaches teens about the power of positive thinking

Associated Press |

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What if reading a comic book could make you less prone to depression? And what if you could learn how to better manage your relationships with others, and build up your resilience to setbacks by absorbing cognitive-behavioural techniques through an interactive comic book?

That’s what University of Illinois at Chicago researchers are creating with Catch-It, an interactive online comic book intended to help teenagers ages 13-18 through a range of coping strategies. Created with evidence-based clinical research into depression prevention, Catch-It is a technology-based preventive measure that helps you become aware of destructive behaviour before a depressive episode get worse.

Catch-It is a audio narrative game in which the reader influences the outcome by choosing with action the chosen comic book character will take. Characters are placed in scenarios that are considered common to adolescents dealing with depression, and stories were scripted around those situations.

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The interactive pieces offer users the opportunity to apply lessons learned and to affect the outcome of the story. The scenarios are presented in 14 modules that take about 15-30 minutes to get through, with questions and responses. The curriculum can be accessed via computer or smartphone, making it way more playful compared with a workbook vibe.

“There is this one module where a boy said hi to a girl he knew in school, but she didn’t say hi back to him,” said Aliza Gussin, 17, of Glenbrook North High School in the US state of Illinois. “The module was about not assuming the worst in that situation – not being like: ‘Oh, she didn’t say hi to me. She must hate me. We’re not friends anymore.’ I know things like that really do happen in high school. I know it sounds kind of ridiculous, but it does really happen.”

Gussin, who is one of the teens that are advising the creators of Catch-It, says the curriculum, which has components for teens and another for parents, covers a broad spectrum of issues teens might face in their day-to-day life, including having dark thoughts while hanging out in your room. Catch-It’s approach on positive thinking is simple but effective, she added.

“A lot of what I see in high school is that kids have insane amounts of stress and a lot of anxiety about everything. So, something as simple as positive thinking around the stress of daily life, it seems almost too hard to do. But positive thinking is a really easy way to make a change in how you feel and for depression.”