Getty And Mental Health Charity SANE Australia Join To Show What Mental Illness Really Looks Like

14/03/2016 12:06 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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When Cameron Solnordal was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the image in his head was that "the world was ending".

But a new collaboration between Getty Images and mental health charity SANE Australia is hoping to change the way we picture mental illness.

Solnordal told The Huffington Post Australia visual depictions of mental health were vital in shaping either stigma or understanding.

"Our family had no history of mental illness so when the word 'schizophrenia' came up, we were caught in the same inadvertent stereotypes and fears many people have -- I thought of a man on a street corner carrying his belongings in bags," Solnordal said.

"It was as if the world was ending. Looking back, what if that imagery was that, sure, it would be a setback, but it could also be manageable?"

SANE Australia's new Picture This exhibition is the result of a survey of more than 5000 people to determine the images that best depicted mental illness.

Picture This -- portraying mental illness


Chief executive Jack Heath said the results were particularly illuminating because 70 percent of survey respondents identified as having a mental illness.

"The huge majority of people living with mental illness look like you and I but often depictions of mental illness can often be extremely unhelpful and inaccurate," Heath told HuffPost Australia.

"It's a concept of hidden adversity and the image overwhelmingly endorsed by all age groups and catergories is of a woman with many different faces. There's a sense she can be walking along a street and looking OK but there might be something more below the surface.

"It's an image taking you from struggle to hope to cope."

SANE used the survey responses to develop five recommendations for mental illness imagery.

SANE Australia's recommendations for mental health imagery

1. Hidden Adversity: Provide more images depicting people from diverse backgrounds, doing ‘everyday’ things, while also illustrating a hidden experience of adversity.

2. Human experience: Emphasize the human experience of mental illness rather than featuring abstract depictions.

3. Non-violent: Do not tag or associate images depicting violence (blood, knives etc) with mental illness. There are still some images of violence in online collections that are tagged with words related to mental illness (such as schizophrenia) even though these images aren’t often used to portray mental illness.

4. Search words: Tag images reflecting the survey’s results with diagnostic terms (such as ‘depression’, ‘bipolar’), or emotions (such as ‘sadness’ and ‘loneliness’) to make them easier to locate via online searches.

5. Diversity of experience: use images that represent isolation or pain (such as those with people in the dark, in a corner or holding their head in their hands) with other types of images to show the diversity of experience of mental illness. While many identify with this type of image, there are also others who do not.

The images will be on display in Melbourne's Federation Square until until March 18 and Getty Images is running a competition, based on the research results and five key recommendations developed by SANE.

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