Nurse Researchers Using Comic Books to Combat Mental Illness; Prizes Available for Readers' Feedback

Posted: August 7, 2021

Researchers in the University of Kentucky College of Nursing are tackling the scourge of tobacco use among psychologically distressed populations with a new and unique format–comic books.  The “When Nicotine Attacks: Fight the Crave” comic book is the first of eight in the ‘Dimensions’ comic book series written by nurse scientists in UK Nursing’s Behavioral Health Wellness Environments for Living and Learning (BH WELL) research program and illustrated by artist Dotty Berryman.

Each edition of the comic book series will focus on a different “Dimension superhero,” each of whom represents one of the eight dimensions of wellness as supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).  The eight superheroes and the dimensions of wellness they represent include Captain Calm (environmental), the Healer (emotional), Elastic Beauty (financial), Magnetic Shock (social), Gentle Chameleon (occupational), Divine Queen (spiritual), Thundering Tornado (physical), and Agent Replacement (intellectual). 

“We are excited about this comic book series because they aim to destigmatize seeking mental health care," said Dr. Zim Okoli, BH WELL director, and professor at the UK College of Nursing. "We are working towards the day when the expectation of taking care of one’s mental health is as ‘normal’ as taking care of our physical health. A superhero isn’t one who is free from challenges, but one who knows how to get the support to tackle them.”

“When Nicotine Attacks: Fight the Crave” is the story of Eric Ripple, also known as Captain Calm. He is super strong and can communicate with animals. But he suffers from anxiety and also nicotine withdrawal since he stopped smoking. One day during band practice his nicotine cravings start acting up, causing heightened anxiety. He transforms into a terrifying monster called Shadow Tsunami. It’s up to his friends to help him transform back into himself. Ultimately though, it’s his addiction and he’ll have to be the one that lands the last “punch.”

With comic books, researchers and healthcare providers can share what they have learned with people living with mental illnesses who are trying to quit tobacco and other nicotine products in a meaningful and impactful way. It is a way to share real-life solutions based on what is shown to work in a form that is entertaining and fun. In the first comic, more than 50 years of the science of tobacco control is shared as well as the evidence that guides tobacco treatment into relatable characters to support people struggling with the same issues.

Kentucky leads the nation in the number of new cases and deaths from lung cancer. Findings from a national survey show that while tobacco use among people without serious psychological distress decreased from 24.1% to 18.2% between 1997 and 2011, tobacco use among people with serious psychological distress only decreased from 43.6% to 42.1% in the same period. Tobacco use among individuals living with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses is even higher, up to 70% in some cases.

Individuals living with mental illnesses who use tobacco are more likely to die as much as ten to 25 years earlier, experience more depression and anxiety, have more heart and breathing challenges, and are more likely to die by suicide. While some people believe that tobacco use can calm anxiety and help recovery, tobacco use actually hinders recovery.

Seeking reader feedback, prizes available 

As part of their ongoing research related to the Dimensions Comic Book series, BH WELL is seeking reader feedback on "When Nicotine Attacks: Fight the Crave."  Those who read the comic and participate in the evaluation will be entered in a bi-weekly prize drawing where they are eligible to win one of six $20 Amazon gift cards.  Anyone who is 18 years of age or older and that has read the comic book may participate. For more information and a link to the evaluation, visit

This study is being supported through grants from the Kentucky Department of Public Health. For inquiries or concerns, please call 854-323-6606 or 859-246-8020 or email Dr. Okoli at

The Behavioral Health Wellness Environments for Living and Learning (BH WELL) research program offers free educational resources to people living with or experiencing mental and behavioral health challenges and to behavioral health care providers. For more information, check out our many mental and behavioral health resources at


View "When Nicotine Attacks: Fight the Crave"

Take the "When Nicotine Attacks: Fight the Crave" Evaluation