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Mental health

A campaign backed by Stephen Fry has been launched to try to change the type of images used by the media for stories about mental health. But what is wrong with the ones currently used?

A solitary figure, with their head in their hands, more often than not cast in dark, sombre lighting. These stock images, often termed the "headclutcher", have become a familiar sight in media portrayals of mental illness.

Charities and campaigners have, for many years, lamented the use of such imagery, arguing that people with mental illnesses do not always "look" depressed.

Charlotte Walker, who has bipolar disorder, says these pictures can be harmful, and that images of people in distress have become synonymous with mental illness.

"It's the only image we see of mental distress," she says, "unless it's about obsessive compulsive disorder, in which case you always get someone washing their hands, or self-harm, where you get the obvious. It's too reductionist."

She says the "headclutcher" shots also reduce the personhood of whoever is photographed as their face is usually barely seen. "The face is exactly where we should be looking if we want to check how someone we know is feeling," she says. "Just because they're not curled in a foetal position under their desk doesn't mean your colleague isn't struggling and may need help."

Mental health and the death of the "headclutcher" picture
By Kathleen Hawkins

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