22/12/2017 14:00 SAST

Stock Images Of Bipolar Disorder Prove We Need Better Illustrations Of Mental Illness In Media

'Inaccurate' is an understatement.

A poet has pointed out how damaging stock photos of bipolar disorder in the media can be, with some so outrageous, they’re almost laughable.  

In a Twitter thread that’s gone viral, Chrysanthemum Tran shared a series of images, pointing out that many of them are just “really silly”.

Stock images are photos usually posed by models and are often used by newspapers and magazines alongside articles. Their use, therefore, shapes the public consciousness and opinion.

In response to the thread, a leading charity told HuffPost UK such images can “feed into unhelpful misconceptions and stereotypes” around mental illness.

Chrysanthemum, from Rhode Island, US, began the thread by sharing a couple of nonsensical images. 

After receiving thousands of retweets, the performer delved a little deeper into the archives to find some images that are plain bizarre. 

In a later post, Chrysanthemum called the photos “frustrating” and “inaccurate”, saying they do not reflect what life is like living with the illness. 

It wasn’t long before other people commented to share their frustrations with stock images illustrating mental illness.

Some also thanked Chrysanthemum for approaching the topic with humour. 

In response to the thread, Sue Baker, director of the mental health charity Time to Change, told HuffPost UK: “We recognise that mental health can be a complex topic to illustrate, which is perhaps why we often see the use of over simplistic or stereotypical imagery.

“However, our supporters tell us the images that are often used to depict mental health do not portray what it is really like to live with a mental health problem, and in some cases imagery can feed into unhelpful misconceptions and stereotypes.”

She pointed out that for some time, campaigners have been highlighting the negative impact of the stigmatising ‘headclutcher’ (head in hands) shot that “all too often accompanies media stories around mental health”.

“Our research shows that over half of people found it stigmatising, and that it made others think that people with mental health problems should look depressed all of the time,” she said.

To combat the use of stereotypical images portraying mental health issues in the media, Time to Change has created an image bank with recommended photos for journalists to use. 

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email:
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