Hannah Wilcove and Callie VanAntwerp
For our project, we made a zine focusing on the how mental illness affects the LGBTQ+ community. Initially, we hoped to make and distribute copies of the zine around UMBC’s campus, but due to time and logistical constraints, we switched to uploading and posting it digitally (a few excerpts of it are featured below). In either case, the zine’s focus on intersectionality is very important because LGBTQ+ individuals face significantly higher rates of mental illness than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. Therefore, we found it especially important to provide resources for members of this community, particularly individuals at UMBC.
The first part of the project focused a lot on doing thorough research to find good information on the topic. When it comes to mental illness, it can be very difficult to find quantitative data, and this problem is exacerbated when the scope of research is narrowed down to one particular demographic. We used the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website for a lot of our statistics. The website also featured a section on the LGBTQ+ community, so we used that as a springboard for the focus of our zine. We wanted the zine to go more in-depth than just an overview of how mental health affects the LGBTQ+ community differently, so we needed more information than just that page. Therefore, we looked around for organizations and hotlines dealing specifically with this issue and found what they had to say. Thanks to the library, we also got hold of Michael Sadowski’s book, In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood, which allowed us to read about more personal experiences.
With all our research compiled into a Google doc, we knew we had to eventually buckle down and make the zine. One of the hardest parts of this project was picking and choosing what information to include. We ultimately realized that a lot of the general information we had could be condensed into one page detailing the prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. From there, we outlined the information that would go on each page. These included topics such as why the LGBTQ+ community faces such high rates of mental illness, how to be a good ally to a friend who is LGBTQ+ and/or suffering from mental illness, how to help a friend who is having a panic attack, and phone numbers of various organizations and hotlines, where people are trained to help someone in a state of crisis.
Altering the project to be solely digital made the process a lot easier, and saved us time and resources. One of the benefits of going digital is that the zine can be seen by more people, however, the goal was never really to go viral. Our project would have worked better if we had decided to go digital from the start, because we would have had more time to figure out the best way to post it and promote it. Were we to do this again, it would probably be wise to collaborate with people from the start and try to get a strong social media presence going. We would do this by talking to people who are active on sites such as Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook, and ask them to share our work, so that their friends and followers could see it.
This project has taught us both a great deal about activism. We learned a lot about the importance of thorough research, and how to take those facts and turn them into something new and accessible. This process also made us realize how projects can change shape as they are developed, and that’s okay. I don’t think either of us realized how much time and communication is required when working with other people to complete something of this magnitude. In switching to a digital project, we had to scrap our initial goal of distributing copies of the zine around UMBC’s campus. Still, I think we were ultimately successful in creating an original and interesting zine, and learning what is required to organize and complete an activist project.