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Picture This... a different way of looking at mental illness

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

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

‘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.

The research follows work by Time to Change a UK-based program challenging mental health stigma and discrimination. A survey for their Get The Picture campaign 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.

SANE Australia will use the results from the survey to determine further action, which may include calling for new images or suggesting we re-think how we identify existing pictures.

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

iStock by Getty Images is the web’s original resource for crowd sourced royalty-free stock images, media and design elements, offering millions of hand-picked photos, illustrations, videos and audio tracks.

Getty Images have generously agreed to provide the images for this survey.

‘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,’ says Lisa Maree Williams, Getty Images photographer and Walkley Awards finalist.

The survey is aimed at Australians and is accessible online until midnight Friday 24 July 2015.


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