timetochangeActor Stephen Fry has backed a campaign to offer picture editors alternative images to the simplistic and stigmatising ‘headclutcher’ (head in hands) shot that often accompanies media stories about mental health problems.

The campaign, Get the Picture, has been launched by Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma programme run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. It builds on campaigning by mental health activists and a recent survey that found that 58% of nearly 2,000 respondents said the ‘headclutcher’ image was stigmatising and that it made others think that people with mental health problems should look depressed all of the time (76%). More than 80% also said the image did not convey how it feels to have a mental health problem.

The survey also found that a third of people (30%) said that seeing images of suicide or self-harm triggered their own suicidal feelings.

As part of the campaign, a new set of images to accompany media stories about mental health problems has been made freely available. The bank of images has been taken by photographic agency Newscast and is supported by the UK Picture Editors’ Guild.

As well as people with mental health problems, Time to Change consulted picture editors and journalists to find out if they would use alternatives to the ‘headclutcher’ image. The majority agreed these images could be stigmatising and that they would prefer to use alternatives if they were available.

Four people with personal experience of mental health problems are featured in some of the new images. The look and feel of many of the shots were also directly informed by comments made in the survey which asked respondents about their suggestions for imagery that would best depict mental health problems.

Rehaan Ansari, 24, a medical student at Newcastle University, is one of four people with experience of mental health problems to feature in the campaign. “The ‘headclutcher’ is an unfair and inaccurate representation of what life is like with a mental health condition – but it’s often the image most commonly associated with people who experience them,” she said. “It’s definitely time to change the backwards attitude that mental health conditions are something to be ashamed of.”

Powerful effect of images

Alan Sparrow, UK Picture Editors’ Guild chairman, added: “This marks the first time in 40 years that the Guild has associated itself with a charity. I have chosen to support this campaign as our members can have a powerful effect on the portrayal of mental health problems via images in the media. We hope to dissuade our industry from using the ‘headclutcher’ image that is so often used to illustrate stories about mental health."

Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, said: “We recognise that mental health can be a complex topic to illustrate, which is perhaps why we’ve seen so much use of an over-simplistic ‘headclutcher’ shot over the years.

“For some time, campaigners have been highlighting the negative impact of the image in the media so we wanted to combine our efforts and come up with a way of offering picture editors a fresh and more realistic range of photographs. These images are freely available to all media, and we hope to add to the bank of photos over time. We urge picture editors to use them and say goodbye to the headclutcher once and for all.”