Saying goodbye to ‘Headclutcher’ photos
What does mental illness look like? Can a photo show what it’s like to have conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder? That’s a question that journalists or picture editors have to grapple with when choosing a picture to illustrate news stories about mental health.
It isn’t easy, and all too often the media resorts to using what we call a 'headclutcher' picture. You know the type, and we’ve all seen them being used to accompany an article about mental health – ‘man with head in hands’, ‘woman sitting at table clutching head’ or ‘teen sitting with legs drawn up to chest and head in knees’. The ‘headclutcher’ has become the leading image for mental health stories, even positive ones, because it seems like an obvious way of showing that someone is experiencing mental health problems.
Is there anything wrong with that? Lots of people in the mental health community believe there is. For a long time people have been pointing out #Headclutcher images on Twitter whenever they pop up in the media, and bloggers such as Sectioned have written at length on the subject.
The main problem people have with these images is that they are stigmatising. They show us a stereotype of a person with mental illness – that they are in perpetual despair, isolated and without hope. And while it is true that sometimes a person with a mental health problem might clutch their head, that’s also true of anyone, mental illness or not.
Time to Change, the anti-stigma programme we run with Mind, decided to start the ‘Get the Picture’ campaign to find out what people really think about ‘headclutcher’ shots, and to see if we could come up with any alternatives.
We asked our supporters for their views, and nearly 2,000 people responded. Eighty percent said that ‘headclutcher’ pics don’t show how it feels to have a mental health problem, and many pointed out that if having mental health problems doesn’t mean you look depressed all the time.
We also brought together a group of people with lived experience of mental illness, journalists, picture editors and mental health workers to brainstorm ideas for alternative images. We wanted to create new images that showed a better representation of the vast diversity that surrounds mental health problems.
Last night we officially launched the Get the Picture campaign, with a new set of stock images that can be used for mental health stories without a ‘headclutcher’ in sight. We held an event with journalists and picture editors to encourage them to use these new, less-stigmatising images.
But this is just the start. Let’s hope it gets the ball rolling and changes how mental health is depicted in the media, making it more relevant and accurate to people’s own lived experiences.
For more information go to: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/getthepicture
What do you think about 'head-clutcher' images? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!