Book Project: All About Mental Health

It was more than a year ago when the Campus Council on Community and Diversity chose the topic of “mental health” as the theme for the 2020-21 Campus Community Book Project.

The council at that time had no way of knowing about the pandemic that would arrive in March 2020, making the “mental health” theme all the more important.


"Marbles" book cover with woman as cartoon figure looking up at the titloe.

UC Davis curtailed operations (except for health care), and many employees started working from home. Students switched to remote learning. Many employees continue to work remotely, balancing their job and child care responsibilities (including being their children’s schoolteachers). Then came the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the resulting protests. Then came the wildfires, some of the biggest the state has ever seen, with many UC Davis affiliates having to evacuate and some losing their homes.

And, through it all, people have been worried about being infected with the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Campus Council on Community and Diversity and book project volunteers continued their work of evaluating the titles that had been nominated. Then, in May 2020 came the announcement of the 2020-21 book, the graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me by the author-cartoonist Ellen Forney. How utterly appropriate, as no doubt many of us are feeling overwhelmed by all that is going on.

First, this message to staff, faculty and students: UC Davis has resources for you, either through the Academic and Staff Assistance Program, or Student Health and Counseling Services.

Now, with the launch of the 2020-21 book project, employees, students and others have the added resources of talks and workshops, a forum, a film and two comedy shows, all about mental health. All programs are open to the public, and all are free except for the author’s evening talk.

‘A basic need’

The Office of Campus Community Relations launched the book project in 2002-03 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as a means of providing a shared topic of conversation, to bring people together to express their views, respectfully. By so doing, the project fosters diversity and promotes equity and inclusiveness, leading to improved campus climate and community relations.

“This year’s mental health theme invites our campus and wider community to engage in dialogue and collective learning around a basic need — one that is more vulnerable today than ever,” said Megan Macklin, book project coordinator. “But more important, the program is an opportunity to participate in these conversations in community."

Ellen Forney headshot

Events normally span the Davis and Sacramento campuses (this year's programming, by the way, features especially strong representation by UC Davis Health), and each year’s project includes, as the concluding event, or near the end, an evening lecture by the author, and in recent years, a Forum @ MC. Here is the author's schedule for the 2020-21 book project:

  • The Forum @ MC, time to be announced, Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Free and open to the public.
  • Evening talk, 7:30-9 p.m., Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center. Purchase tickets here.

The organizers are hoping the two author events and one or two of the project’s other events can be held in person. The rest will be virtual — something that Macklin sees as a positive. “We’re hopeful that our virtual format will allow for greater accessibility and will provide spaces for community-building and healing during a time when we need it most,” she said.

This week and beyond

The first week of the book project coincides with National Mental Health Awareness Week, Oct. 4-10, and includes a program titled “Mental Health and the Power of Resilience,” 2 p.m. this Friday (Oct. 9), presented by Hendry Ton, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UC Davis Health, and associate vice chancellor, Office of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Coming next week: The Impact of COVID-19 on Latino Mental Health” in English and Spanish (“El impacto de COVID-19 en la salud mental de los Latinos,” presented by Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, a professor of clinical internal medicine and the founding director of UC Davis Health’s Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

  • Espanol 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12
  • English 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13

Coming up:

  • Alternatives to Policing in Mental Health Care
  • Understanding Your Stress and Ways to Manage It
  • Coping with COVID: Short- and Long-Term Approaches      
  • The Adventures of Comic Book Readers vs. Genre Snobs: Fighting for Respect
  • Bipolar Disorder: A Medical, Cultural and Historical Perspective   
  • Push-Ups for the Mind: Strengthening Our Effectiveness and Well-Being With Mindfulness Meditation        
  • Bias and Racism in Mental Health and Mental Health Treatment    
  • Stigma and Mental Illness: The Final Frontier for Human Rights    
  • Burnout Prevention    
  • Losing Our Marbles: Mental Illness Narratives     
  • Mental Health: Reimagining and Reinventing Our Community Response (forum)
  • Holistic Healing: Finding Harmony Between the Mind, Body and Spirit 
  • Mental Health in the Black Community: Experiences, Perspectives and Healing       


  • The Mental Health Comedy Show, presented by UC Davis’ Standup Comedy Club
  • Screening of Inside Out, a Disney-Pixar animated film about conflicting emotions in an 11-year-old girl’s mind
  • Invisible Disabilities Comedy Show

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