Comic helps young people cope with grief

Teenagers from across Scotland have shared their experiences of bereavement for a new comic aiming to help other young people deal with their grief.

Produced in conjunction with academics from the Universities of Dundee and Strathclyde, When People Die: Stories from Young People is a 40-page publication filled with images, stories and insights that arose from a series of workshops held at HMYOI Polmont and the charities Richmond's Hope and Children's Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS).

The intention of the year-long project was to explore how comics can help generate reflective and confident life stories for young people who have experienced bereavement, and help destigmatise conversations about loss and grief. In doing so, When People Die: Stories from Young People, will not only directly reach out to young people but also to enable parents, carers, teachers and peers to provide better support in the event of bereavement.

The project was led by Dr Golnar Nabizadeh, Lecturer in Comics Studies at Dundee, who said, “This was an amazing project to work on and it brought our research team in contact with brilliant young people whose lived experiences have given them a perspective on grief far beyond their years.

“When we first held workshops, we asked the participants for their insights and tips on grief rather than asking them directly about their own experiences but some of the stories touch on their personal experiences in a very profound way.

“Throughout this process, we were really impressed by the detailed, thoughtful, and productive reflections and drawings generated by the young people. They also worked closely with artists based at Ink Pot Studio in the Dundee Comics Creative Space, who created nuanced responses to the original work produced by the participants.

“The end result is a comic that everyone who contributed to should be very proud of. The insights it contains will hopefully help other young people deal with their grief while the tips for teachers, parents and friends will help them provide the support they want to give.”

The comic is part of a larger project, ‘Developing confident life stories about child bereavement’, funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute. Dundee academics worked with colleagues from Strathclyde’s Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ), a group dedicated to supporting improvements in youth justice, contributing to better lives for individuals, families and communities.

Dundee has been a pioneer in the field of comics scholarship at a time where there has been growing acknowledgement of comics and graphic novels as increasingly sophisticated texts which comment on culture, politics and values, and cross over into areas such as television, film, computer games and the internet. Dr Nabizadeh’s own research focuses on comics and visual studies and particularly on representations of trauma, migration, and memory in these fields.

Janet O’Connor, who works as a social worker with CHAS and supported participants during each workshop, said, “We are delighted to contribute to this project and support young people to share their stories. Working in partnership with young people who have experienced bereavement means the comic reflects genuine insights and has an authentic voice that will hopefully help other young people who are experiencing grief.”