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SANE Challenge to Capture Mental Illness in Pictures


15 March 2016 at 11:22 am
Chris Hornsey
SANE Australia has taken up the challenge to encourage a more positive visual representation of mental illness.

Chris Hornsey | 15 March 2016 at 11:22 am


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SANE Challenge to Capture Mental Illness in Pictures
15 March 2016 at 11:22 am

SANE Australia has taken up the challenge to encourage a more positive visual representation of mental illness.

CEO of the national mental health charity Jack Heath said a survey of more than 5,000 Australians found a majority supported a more realistic and human depiction of people suffering from mental illness.

“While community attitudes towards the way we speak about mental illness, along with the Australian media’s reporting of this complex issues, are among the most responsible in the world, the way mental illness is visually portrayed remains a concern for many Australians,especially associations with violence,” Heath said.

The survey, Picture This, asked for community comment on six images, regularly associated with mental illness.

“We were been blown away by the response. Initially by the fact that we had 5,000 when we were expecting 1,000. But the results have been interesting. We have struggled for a number of years to find what is a fair and accurate representation of mental illness that conveys a sense of dignity and hope, and that is realistic at the same time.”

Of the six images presented in the survey, participants reacted most strongly to a picture showing a written definition of depression surrounded by pills. They said it was the least fair and accurate. The image was particularly unpopular among health professionals and mental health professionals.

Heath said an image showing a woman with the multiple faces, was the one that got overwhelming endorsement across the board.

He said more than 70 per cent of respondents had a lived experience of mental illness, which had given SANE a powerful insight into understanding appropriate images.

SANE has partnered with Getty Images, a visual communications company, to begin the process of changing the way we see people with a mental illness.

Vice President of Editorial – Australia Stuart Hannagan said: “Anything we can do to raise awareness and obviously images raise awareness, will be a positive thing for mental illness.”

Hannagan said the feedback from the survey would be passed on to photographers to ensure images available from their stock are true to life and more positive.

Heath said it was important to remember that people living with mental illness “are people like us”.  

“More than 700,000 australians will have an experience of severe mental illness in any given year,” he said.

“This project is a path to changing the stigma.  It is an important step on that path. “We haven’t done anything like this in Australia before.”

SANE Australia is asking the public to make their own comments online about how they picture mental illness by visiting here.


Chris Hornsey  |  @ProBonoNews

Chris has worked as a journalist, freelance writer, media adviser for more than 35 years.

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One comment

  • Avatar Harold A. Maio says:

    This project is a path to changing the stigma

    Do you not think it insane that Sane is lending credence to a “stigma”, treating it like a truth? I do.

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