THE BLOG

Pictures Can Be Just as Damaging as Words When It Comes to Mental Health Problems in the Media

19/03/2015 17:42 GMT | Updated 19/05/2015 10:59 BST

This week, Time to Change launched a campaign, called Get the Picture, to change the way mental health stories in the media are illustrated.

We know pictures can be just as damaging as words when it comes to mental health problems in the media. Far too often, we have seen the notorious 'headclutcher' - the solitary person, with head in hands, in the stock shots that are used over and over again. Other pictures - those which show images around suicide and self-harm - triggered just those feelings for many people.

One in four of us will have a mental health problem in any year - and our responses are very, very varied; we don't all spend our time slumped in a corner with our heads in our hands. So, building on the work of many activists on Twitter who have campaigned to get more realistic and representative photos used in the print, broadcast and online media, we recently asked Time to Change supporters for their views. Nearly 2,000 people took part and over half (58%) told us the 'headclutcher' image added to stigma whilst 80% said these pictures don't convey how it feels to have a mental health problem.

We started talking to the UK Picture Editors' Guild, and for the first time in 40 years they partnered with a charity campaign. The photo agency Newscast volunteered to take a new set of images and host them on their site, freely available for media to use. All we needed were some models, but they had to be willing to, effectively, sign away almost all their rights about where or when their pictures might appear.

We were overwhelmed by the response and the commitment people wanted to make to this campaign when well over 100 people came forward. The four amazing models with mental health problems who appear in the final set of photos show just how determined people are to do their bit to reduce stigma.

We were surprised to find that the picture editors we spoke to were just as keen to have some fresh, realistic and more positive images. The headclutcher had become commonplace because they were stuck for alternatives. Some told us they hadn't realised how people saw these images as stigmatising, and wanted to make a change.

The response from media professionals has been just as positive, and the Sunday Express have already committed to using no more 'headclutcher' shots.

It's the first time a mental health campaign has directly challenged the images that perpetuate stigma in this way, and it builds on our previous work with other sections of the media, like scriptwriters on soaps and dramas, where we have seen big improvements in recent years. It feels like putting one of the final pieces of the jigsaw in place.

We want to share our learning with other campaigners: not just at home, but all around the world. I know that colleagues in Australia are looking at Get the Picture with interest and I hope this initiative gains momentum elsewhere.

When I was really severely depressed myself, and having suicidal thoughts - not once did I ever slump down, with my elbows on the table, and put my head in my hands.

So I'm glad to say #GoodbyeHeadclutcher. As Alan Sparrow, Chair of the UK Picture Editor's Guild said at the launch event earlier this week "a picture tells 1000 words."