Once you start to notice them, they seem to be everywhere: the head clutcher. What are they? Not the image above, The Scream, an iconic portrayal of human misery, which has been much copied and parodied. Instead, they are stock pictures trotted out to illustrate media stories with a mental health angle, typically showing someone with their head in their hands.
I’ve tweeted about them before and, last week, I started to do so using the hashtag #headclutcher after seeing one stock photo (below right) appear in 3 separate media stories in the same day! Poor woman.
In this blog post, I’ve drawn together what others have written about the head clutcher, including the blog by tweeter @Huwtube. After seeing my #headclutcher tweets, he wrote an hilarious post entitled The Rise of the Headclutcher, critiquing various such shots. It’s well worth checking out if you want a laugh.
Of course the serious side of this is that using stock head clutcher photos perpetuates an image in the public mind of what mental distress looks like. And, if you don’t meet that stereotype, well clearly you’re not deserving of help.
I’ve commented on this before (here) and I’ve experienced this myself. I can appear confident and cheerful and this counted against me in an Atos medical assessment (for eligibility for state sickness benefits): after checking I could touch my toes and reach overhead, the assessor noted in his written report that, because I had made eye contact, I must be fine. No mental health problems whatsoever. Perhaps if I’d spent the assessment with my head in my hands I’d have met with his expectations of what mental illness looks like and scored more than the zero points I was awarded.
As national anti-stigma campaign Time to Change says (in its guidance to journalists on choosing images to accompany stories with a mental health angle), “Some really strong stories that may include great content and have educational value can be weakened by the use of an inappropriate image”. We can do better. We should do better. We must do better.
Check out the links below for more examples of head clutcher shots, together with others’ blogs on the subject. And, if you come across more head clutcher shots or other stereotypical representations of mental illness in the media, please feel free to add them in the comments below.
Happy head clutching!
My head clutcher Storify stories (with links):
- What does mental illness look like? The Headclutcher – the original tweets & links
- Head clutcher part 2 – even more links & hilarious suggestions, plus serious comments
Links to others’ stories on the head clutcher and other media representations of mental illness:
- Psychodiagnosticator blog (twitter: @Huwtube) – Rise of the Headclutchers (29th May)
- Purple Persuasion blog (Charlotte Walker, twitter @bipolarblogger) – No dressing gowns allowed! Photographing mental distress (24th October 2011)
- The World of Mentalists (twitter: @TWOM)_blog) caption competitions – Head-Clutching Guy (22nd January), Long-Haired Head-Clutcher (5th February), Ich bin ein #Headclutcher (6th July)
- Zedcat‘s blog (Twitter: @stfumisogynists) – How to do madness: An illustrated guide (7th March)
- Time to Change guidance – Using images in media stories – The images that are used in stories can be just as damaging as the words or the headlines.
Other stories about the use of stock photos:
- Independent newspaper – The top ten visual cliches – “This is about reaching for the most obvious image with which to illustrate an abstract subject.” (23rd June)
- The Society Pages – Salad, Desire, and Advertising – on women laughing alone salad ( 7th January 2011)
- Vagenda magazine – Stock Photos of Women Looking Remorseful After Sexual Encounters (6th February)
Mainstream media stories illustrated by head clutcher pictures (often the same one):
- BBC news loves the head clutcher:
- Nova ‘Bíblia da psiquiatria’ amplia lista de transtornos e gera polêmica – Head clutcher woman spotted in Portugal! (15th May)
- Students’ ‘suicidal thoughts’ warning from NUS (20th May)
- Suicidal woman ‘told to have a cup of tea’ by NHS helpline (22nd May)
- Two win sickness benefit test legal challenge (22nd May)
- Put mental health on timetable, schools urged – the” hoody head clutcher”, a new category to illustrate young people’s mental health concerns (5th July)
- Male suicide: CALM on Department of Heath help for men (9th August) – a rare male head clutcher / wall facer
- Birmingham Mail – Mental health problems linked to rise in crime – “City council and police unite to study effects of service cuts on people disorders” (19th August) – “people disorders”?!
- Guardian newspaper – How to survive in social work – When dealing with hostile and aggressive people you should not take it personally, advises the blogger Masked AMHP (14th June)
- Major Depressive Disorder Symptoms website – Options of Major Depressive Disorder Home Remedies (5th April)
- Mirror newspaper – Mental health: Young at suicide risk as health cuts bite (26th May)
- Money Advice Service – Half of UK workforce fears income loss (8th July) – here’s head clutcher woman worrying about her finances!
- Nottingham Post newspaper is another head clutcher fan:
- Plans to modernise mental health care – Headclutcher woman spotted in Nottingham! (8th June)
- A listening ear when it all gets too much at university – Headclutcher man in Nottingham on the same day! (8th June)
- Sunday Express newspaper – Anger at move to ignore views on suffering of the many thousands with mental problems (24th July) – head clutcher man squats in a corridor, alone …
- Telegraph newspaper
- Buddhist meditation ‘as good as drugs’ at beating depression – Buddhist meditation is just as effective as drugs at combating depression, a study has found (November 2008)
- One in three absences at work due to anxiety and stress, official Government survey finds – on “fit notes” (26th June)
Headclutchers in stories by other commentators:
- The Mental Elf (twitter: @MentalElf)