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Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness

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In 1976, Ben Martini was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A decade later, his brother Olivier was told he had the same disease. For the past thirty years the Martini family has struggled to comprehend and cope with a devastating illness, frustrated by a health care system lacking in resources and empathy, the imperfect science of medication, and the strain of mental illness o In 1976, Ben Martini was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A decade later, his brother Olivier was told he had the same disease. For the past thirty years the Martini family has struggled to comprehend and cope with a devastating illness, frustrated by a health care system lacking in resources and empathy, the imperfect science of medication, and the strain of mental illness on familial relationships. Throughout it all, Olivier, an accomplished visual artist, drew. His sketches, comic strips, and portraits document his experience with, and capture the essence of, this all too frequently misunderstood disease. In "Bitter Medicine," Olivier's poignant graphic narrative runs alongside and communicates with a written account of the past three decades by his younger brother, award-winning author and playwright Clem Martini. The result is a layered family memoir that faces head-on the stigma attached to mental illness. Shot through with wry humour and unapologetic in its politics, "Bitter Medicine" is the story of the Martini family, a polemical and poetic portrait of illness, and a vital and timely call for action.


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In 1976, Ben Martini was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A decade later, his brother Olivier was told he had the same disease. For the past thirty years the Martini family has struggled to comprehend and cope with a devastating illness, frustrated by a health care system lacking in resources and empathy, the imperfect science of medication, and the strain of mental illness o In 1976, Ben Martini was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A decade later, his brother Olivier was told he had the same disease. For the past thirty years the Martini family has struggled to comprehend and cope with a devastating illness, frustrated by a health care system lacking in resources and empathy, the imperfect science of medication, and the strain of mental illness on familial relationships. Throughout it all, Olivier, an accomplished visual artist, drew. His sketches, comic strips, and portraits document his experience with, and capture the essence of, this all too frequently misunderstood disease. In "Bitter Medicine," Olivier's poignant graphic narrative runs alongside and communicates with a written account of the past three decades by his younger brother, award-winning author and playwright Clem Martini. The result is a layered family memoir that faces head-on the stigma attached to mental illness. Shot through with wry humour and unapologetic in its politics, "Bitter Medicine" is the story of the Martini family, a polemical and poetic portrait of illness, and a vital and timely call for action.

30 review for Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peacegal

    This isn't a comic, but rather an illustrated nonfiction book. As I see so many examples of mental illness on a daily basis at work, this book was of great interest to me. The sections detailing the shuttering of mental health services and how so many mentally ill people end up homeless were especially informative and thought-provoking. This isn't a comic, but rather an illustrated nonfiction book. As I see so many examples of mental illness on a daily basis at work, this book was of great interest to me. The sections detailing the shuttering of mental health services and how so many mentally ill people end up homeless were especially informative and thought-provoking.

  2. 4 out of 5

    K Z

    If you are working in a field that is at all related to mental health (or just in the healthcare field in general) then I would highly recommend this book. It gives a startling inside look to schizophrenia and how those living with it are treated as well as a perspective of what it is like to be the family member of someone with schizophrenia. I know there are lots of other sources on this topic that I'm sure are equally as informative and interesting. This one just has a bit of a twist with a b If you are working in a field that is at all related to mental health (or just in the healthcare field in general) then I would highly recommend this book. It gives a startling inside look to schizophrenia and how those living with it are treated as well as a perspective of what it is like to be the family member of someone with schizophrenia. I know there are lots of other sources on this topic that I'm sure are equally as informative and interesting. This one just has a bit of a twist with a being a graphic memoir. It's also created by two brothers, one of whom has schizophrenia.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Hirsche

    This book is an easy read as much as it is an impossible one. It is well written, gripping, and accompanied by intriguing artwork which means I sped through this book quickly and easily. However it is also a terribly hard story which weighs on you. I found myself weeping by the end of the story, and the injustices underlined by this book are hard to swallow. I do believe that everyone should read this book, but it is especially mandatory for people working with marginalized populations.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Heartbreaking. Excellent portrayal of one family's travel through the maze of mental illness treatment. Should be read by ALL social workers and health care workers -- and politicians, too.. Heartbreaking. Excellent portrayal of one family's travel through the maze of mental illness treatment. Should be read by ALL social workers and health care workers -- and politicians, too..

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mateen Mahboubi

    An honest and challenging exploration about the authors' experience with mental health in their family. Clem tells the story of the caregiver, dealing with the frustrations of working in a flawed and underfunded system. Oliver tells his story in drawings and simple text. Both of them together combine for a powerful and challenging read. An honest and challenging exploration about the authors' experience with mental health in their family. Clem tells the story of the caregiver, dealing with the frustrations of working in a flawed and underfunded system. Oliver tells his story in drawings and simple text. Both of them together combine for a powerful and challenging read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    marvellings

    In 1976, Clem Martini's younger brother Ben was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Shortly after, he committed suicide. Ten years later, Clem's older brother Olivier was given the same diagnosis. Bitter Medicine serves as both a deeply personal narrative exploring the effects of this illness on Liv and his family, and a striking indictment of the failures of the Canadian mental health care system. What Bitter Medicine does so well is demonstrate the day-to-day struggles of menta In 1976, Clem Martini's younger brother Ben was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Shortly after, he committed suicide. Ten years later, Clem's older brother Olivier was given the same diagnosis. Bitter Medicine serves as both a deeply personal narrative exploring the effects of this illness on Liv and his family, and a striking indictment of the failures of the Canadian mental health care system. What Bitter Medicine does so well is demonstrate the day-to-day struggles of mental illness: constantly navigating unintelligible institutions, interacting with underpaid or unsympathetic personnel, weighing the benefits of unpredictable medications against often life-threatening costs. And underneath it all, everyone has to grapple with the raw uncertainty: just what kind of life will be possible for Liv and his loved ones? This is more of an illustrated text than a graphic novel, per se. As such, I sometimes felt the text and the illustrations interrupted each other's flow. But at other times, Clem's pointed prose and Olivier's scrawling sketches juxtaposed and augmented each other perfectly—like the hospitalization experience at the end, where each brother trades off telling their side of the same story. Clem writes, "Sometimes [Liv] tells me that I don't understand the way things are. And I'm certain that sometimes he's right. How could I? He's lived an experience that I have only observed." But both brothers lived through this illness, and in Bitter Medicine each has documented their experience in their own, deeply profound way.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sasha Boersma

    When I first started to read the book, I wasn't sure of it. But I needed to push through it for research (instead of my typical tactic of abandoning the text), and I'm glad I did. I felt the book actually read as 2 parts making the whole, the first about the family coming to terms with with mental illness, and the second being a first-person critique of Canada's health care system (or lack thereof) regarding psychiatric treatment. Even though the family's experiences were in Alberta, I saw simila When I first started to read the book, I wasn't sure of it. But I needed to push through it for research (instead of my typical tactic of abandoning the text), and I'm glad I did. I felt the book actually read as 2 parts making the whole, the first about the family coming to terms with with mental illness, and the second being a first-person critique of Canada's health care system (or lack thereof) regarding psychiatric treatment. Even though the family's experiences were in Alberta, I saw similarities to experiences of those in Ontario (in Canada, while health care is publicly funded, it is managed by the different provinces, not nationally). The juxtaposition of the two brother's stories, one in prose and the other in graphic form also helps to demonstrate the thoughts and feelings of someone suffering through mental illness. Difficult read because it is painful to feel emotionally, but it is a story we should be aware of. PS - the Toronto library files the book under "graphic novel", but I feel strongly it is should be reclassified under the category for psychology as it should not be dismissed as an important body of work in psych literature.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    A touching, poignant, well-written and honest memoir about members of a family that has too much taken from it by incurable schizophrenia, the underfunded, indifferent mental healthcare system that fails them on too many levels, too many times, their own determination and loyalty to one another and the help they do receive from resource-starved NGOs. Many things from this book will stay with me, including this: "A recent study indicated that the number of people in American jails with mental ill A touching, poignant, well-written and honest memoir about members of a family that has too much taken from it by incurable schizophrenia, the underfunded, indifferent mental healthcare system that fails them on too many levels, too many times, their own determination and loyalty to one another and the help they do receive from resource-starved NGOs. Many things from this book will stay with me, including this: "A recent study indicated that the number of people in American jails with mental illness has grown so drastically over the past decades that the U.S. prison system now constitutes the single-largest mental health care provider in America. The situation in Canada is little better."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    I read this because it's the focus text for an undergrad reading workshop I'm leading this afternoon. It's marvellous. The two narratives, two perspectives, communicated by Clem and his brother Olivier are at times augmentary, combative, illusory and are always insightful. The experience of both psychological and institutional breakdown experienced by the authors in an austerity-driven Alberta of the 1990s provides both an affective reading experience and much needed caution to the systems that I read this because it's the focus text for an undergrad reading workshop I'm leading this afternoon. It's marvellous. The two narratives, two perspectives, communicated by Clem and his brother Olivier are at times augmentary, combative, illusory and are always insightful. The experience of both psychological and institutional breakdown experienced by the authors in an austerity-driven Alberta of the 1990s provides both an affective reading experience and much needed caution to the systems that currently hold no place for an illness they can't profit from. I highly recommend reading this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Robbins

    This book was definitely an interesting read, and it will help me with a current project I am doing on comics that represent mental health issues. It definitely makes important statements of how traditional healthcare sometimes fails people with mental health issues. What I found uplifting about the book is how much the family support mattered to Liv and how his connections to his family truly saved him. Also, I loved how Clem did the writing and Liv did the drawings. Artistic collaborations bet This book was definitely an interesting read, and it will help me with a current project I am doing on comics that represent mental health issues. It definitely makes important statements of how traditional healthcare sometimes fails people with mental health issues. What I found uplifting about the book is how much the family support mattered to Liv and how his connections to his family truly saved him. Also, I loved how Clem did the writing and Liv did the drawings. Artistic collaborations between people who truly love each other make for great work. This is definitely worth reading!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    This touching memoir is an insight into the roller coaster life of a family coping with schizophrenia. You will be sad, angry, happy, as Clem Martini pens the story and his schizofrenic brother Olivier, sketches his emotions throughout. I highly recommend this book as it creates awareness of a devastating illness, the trauma of medication roulette for the patient and family, and the failure of de-institutionalization.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    A compassionate look at the stark reality of schizophrenia patients and the gaps in our mental health care system since deinstitutionalization. "I'd argue that individuals with mental health issues currently receive second-class care in our health care system, and that there are not just cracks in the mental health system, but gaping chasms that people with mental health problems drop through on a regular basis" (p. 218). A compassionate look at the stark reality of schizophrenia patients and the gaps in our mental health care system since deinstitutionalization. "I'd argue that individuals with mental health issues currently receive second-class care in our health care system, and that there are not just cracks in the mental health system, but gaping chasms that people with mental health problems drop through on a regular basis" (p. 218).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    This book was absolutely amazing, and I wish more people would read it. Clem Martini, a Calgary based writer, writes about his family's struggles with schizophrenia. The drawings are contributed by his schizophrenic brother. This is a real, raw and often sad book that looks at how the Canadian health care system and many other systems ignore and hurt people who are mentally ill. I question anyone who can read this book and not be moved or angered. This book was absolutely amazing, and I wish more people would read it. Clem Martini, a Calgary based writer, writes about his family's struggles with schizophrenia. The drawings are contributed by his schizophrenic brother. This is a real, raw and often sad book that looks at how the Canadian health care system and many other systems ignore and hurt people who are mentally ill. I question anyone who can read this book and not be moved or angered.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marion

    A poignant family memoir by Clem (text) and Olivier (drawings) Martini, this book is a must read for anyone who has experienced mental illness themselves or in their family and has tried to negotiate the mental health system in Alberta.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Choo

    This book has brought me to tears and has shed so much light on this disease that we don't even know or care to know about. It was an assigned reading for English but I enjoyed this one. It is hauntingly beautiful. This book has brought me to tears and has shed so much light on this disease that we don't even know or care to know about. It was an assigned reading for English but I enjoyed this one. It is hauntingly beautiful.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Davy

    I learned things about mental healthcare in the US, and some personal patient experiences, and I like & appreciate that. Clem’s passion in particular about mental healthcare really came through. The transitions between personal narrative to systemic/historical/educational calls to activism could have been better integrated/balanced. The contrast of Liv’s drawings to Clem’s written narrative was cool but I didn’t totally understand it for a long time (perhaps I missed a part in the beginning where I learned things about mental healthcare in the US, and some personal patient experiences, and I like & appreciate that. Clem’s passion in particular about mental healthcare really came through. The transitions between personal narrative to systemic/historical/educational calls to activism could have been better integrated/balanced. The contrast of Liv’s drawings to Clem’s written narrative was cool but I didn’t totally understand it for a long time (perhaps I missed a part in the beginning where it was explicitly said the 2 brothers were working together??) and was confused about who was writing/drawing what, especially in areas where the stories didn’t match so well and it stopped feeling like a collaboration and more a ‘you get the left page, I get the right page’ sort of deal. The actual book format wasn't great with the very very wide pages with only 1 or 2 paragraphs on them and then just lots of empty space. It was unwieldy and broke up the flow to have to turn pages so much. Liv’s drawings were also hard to read & it would’ve been nice to have typed text beneath them. I felt the drawings could not have existed without the extensive text beside them, which makes me question the assignment of graphic memoir... or at least what I expect a graphic memoir to be

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ncoolio

    I hope everyone reads this book. It's beautifully written, with raw and intimate illustrations. It's a personal, emotional, and quietly angry call to action to change the failed system that lets people with mental illnesses fall through the cracks of our care - both in the health care system and society. As Clem points out, people with certain forms of mental illnesses live on average 25 years less than those without, and that would be UNACCEPTABLE if society and those in charge didn't see menta I hope everyone reads this book. It's beautifully written, with raw and intimate illustrations. It's a personal, emotional, and quietly angry call to action to change the failed system that lets people with mental illnesses fall through the cracks of our care - both in the health care system and society. As Clem points out, people with certain forms of mental illnesses live on average 25 years less than those without, and that would be UNACCEPTABLE if society and those in charge didn't see mentally ill people as second class citizens. If this book does anything, it provides a deeply humanizing perspective, which in the face of all the coldness, judgement, and lack of compassion, is incredibly important.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Angele Cano

    I feel like this book should be required reading for everyone in this country. It so accurately depicts moving through the health care system from the point of view of family members and those individuals dealing with mental health diagnoses: the infuriating ignorance that’s still to this day so difficult to deconstruct and challenge. Raw, honest, at times difficult to read, and simultaneously dripping with despair and emerging hope. Will be reading again and recommending.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This was an interesting book with a lot of good information about schizophrenia and how hard it is to get the help you need regarding mental health even if you have people advocating for you. This is considered a graphic novel, but most of the text is written in normal style, with sketches created by his brother strewn throughout the book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm McKay

    A compelling account of coping with mental illness and encounters with the medical and social services system. Skillfully written and wonderfully illustrated by the two-brother team of author and illustrator.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tamela Kellogg

    Written from an insiders insightful perspective. So much of the population just doesn’t understand or even seem to really want to.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    The Martini brothers give a poignant account of schizophrenia and the treatment for this mental disorder. Clem writes the dialogue and Olivier illustrates. Olivier is the second in the family to be plagued by this mental disorder. The first one committed suicide soon after discharge from psychiatric care. They tell with clarity the dilemna of the medical community in understanding or treating mental disorders. One cannot help feeling depressed and helpless as they relate their story.

  23. 4 out of 5

    hannah

    This book is so important! It’s a graphic memoir written by two brothers about the family’s experience with Schizophrenia. Descriptions and stories written by Clem are partnered with drawings by Olivier. Together, the narrative becomes a heartbreaking exposition of the failures of the Canadian mental health system and the devastating effects that illness has on the family structure. Everybody should read this.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Riane

    Bitter Medicine is definitely an eye opener in a number of aspects, particular with the health care system. I'm sure that most, if not everyone, is aware at least to some extent of the lack of resources that the Canadian health care system faces. However, it's shocking how truly inadequate the system is especially with regards to mental care. Bitter Medicine is definitely an eye opener in a number of aspects, particular with the health care system. I'm sure that most, if not everyone, is aware at least to some extent of the lack of resources that the Canadian health care system faces. However, it's shocking how truly inadequate the system is especially with regards to mental care.

  25. 4 out of 5

    . .

    I feel bad rating a true, personal story badly, but I really did not enjoy this book. It is largely a criticism of the mental health system, which is fair, but very few solutions are given, making it incredibly frustrating. The story is told pretty simply, and I didn't find that the pictures added much to it. Overall, I found it a bit bland and overbearingly preachy. I feel bad rating a true, personal story badly, but I really did not enjoy this book. It is largely a criticism of the mental health system, which is fair, but very few solutions are given, making it incredibly frustrating. The story is told pretty simply, and I didn't find that the pictures added much to it. Overall, I found it a bit bland and overbearingly preachy.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Deodand

    I enjoyed this simply-drawn little graphic novel, if "enjoy" is the appropriate word for a book about the many failures of the Canadian mental health system. It is sad, but not depressingly so. I enjoyed this simply-drawn little graphic novel, if "enjoy" is the appropriate word for a book about the many failures of the Canadian mental health system. It is sad, but not depressingly so.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Really interesting look at how mental illness can touch anyone as well as a bit of insight into my local (Calgary) health care system.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth De Marco

    A very poignant, touching and engrossing read. Very informative and important messages about mental illness, society and treatments.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlyn Hartmann

  30. 5 out of 5

    Devorah

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