People who suffer mental illnesses are often stigmatized in society, their afflictions seen as character flaws rather than biological problems. Tackling this perception is a main aim of this finely crafted collection of tales based on the author's job experiences as a psychiatric nurse. Here he shows the intimate details of dealing with dementia patients, warts and all, from having to rationalize with them to having to clean up their feces and urine. Other kinds of patients, those who are depressed, the bipolar ones, the ones who cut themselves, the suicidal ones, and the schizophrenics are given similar treatment. All are described in ways that expose how mental illness affects them and the lives of those around them. This book is simultaneously informative, frank, touching, and stark.
The reason for much of the impact lies in British author Darryl Cunningham's keen eye for detail, storytelling ability, and his own experiences with depression, which he covers in the book's final tale. His deft black and white artwork conveys much emotion and information. Some of his other works include the book Science Tales, about scams and hoaxes, and various strips, such as this one about Ayn Rand, and his unique take on superheroes, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night. He speaks more about his work on Psychiatric Tales in this interview with the Graphic Novel Reporter.
Reviews I have read praise this book;s artistic merits and also its utility as a teaching tool. NPR's Heller McAlpin wrote, "Nursing's loss is literature's gain. With Psychiatric Tales, Cunningham has crafted his own effective way to help both himself and other sufferers of mental illness." The reviewer at Big Rock Candy Mountain called it "a rare and special book...that this should be in every school – in every country." Kirkus Reviews added, "The illustrations are compelling throughout, but the narrative is more powerful when it is more personal and specific." I would agree with this last point that there are some passages more didactic and clinical than others, but on the whole this is quite a moving book.