Dark corners, head in hands… is this what mental illness looks like?

SANE Australia is asking Australians what they think is a fair and accurate portrayal of mental illness in a new survey, part of the Picture This project.

Type ‘mental illness’ into an internet image search and you will see pictures of people in the dark or in a corner, holding their head in their hands. Is this how Australians want mental illness to be portrayed?

Do you want see the images you get when you search “mental illness”? (Post continues after video.)

‘The language we use to discuss mental illness has evolved in recent years to reflect changing community attitudes.

‘The stigma associated with mental illness stops people asking for help and is a major barrier to recovery. It’s time to have a community-wide discussion about the way mental illness is visually portrayed,’ explains Jack Heath, CEO of SANE Australia.

Finding the right image to depict mental illness is a complex problem. Mental illness is a personal journey and using pictures to portray this can be subjective.

It’s something Lisa Maree Williams, Getty Images photographer and Walkley Awards finalist, has grappled with in her work.

Do you want to see some of the beautiful images taken by Lisa? They cover a range of subjects  from same-sex marriage, to war and fashion for Muslim women. (Post continues after gallery.)

‘On many occasions throughout my career I’ve been assigned to stories surrounding the topic of mental illness, often this would involve visually illustrating the story of an individual and frequently being asked to not identify the subject for fear of discrimination. Silhouettes and dark images are obvious techniques adopted to achieve this, I always felt it was a broader refection of the communities attitudes towards mental illness – that it was a subject not to be openly discussed.


‘This has clearly changed over recent years and a platform for discussion, especially to those directly affected by mental illness about how they view themselves and wish to be viewed could be very insightful,’ she says.

Research from Time to Change, a UK-based program challenging mental health stigma and discrimination, found that 58% of people saw the image of someone clutching their head as stigmatising and 76% said that it made others think that people with a mental illness should look depressed all of the time. More than 80% said the image did not convey how it feels to have a mental illness.

National mental health charity, SANE Australia, is asking what Australians think is a fair and accurate portrayal of mental illness in a new survey, part of the Picture This project.

“Picture This” by SANE.

The survey features a variety of images, generously supplied by iStock by Getty Images, commonly used to depict mental illness by the media, mental health sector and Australian public. SANE is asking whether or not people agree with that representation.

The survey also provides participants with the opportunity to describe how they themselves picture mental illness.

If you want to have your say, take the survey online, it’s open till midnight Friday 24 July 2015.

You will also have the opportunity to go into the draw to win a $300 JBHifi voucher! Share the survey online using the hashtag #PictureThis

What do you think of the portrayal of mental illness? Has your life been impacted by mental illness?

If you learnt something from this, then you might want to read…

These are the real, honest, unretouched faces of mental illness.

Tina Fey didn’t kill Dr Fredrick Brandt. Mental illness did.

What to say (and what not to say) to someone living with a mental illness.

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