Around 450 million people worldwide currently suffer from mental illness, each with their own unique circumstances and experiences.  Despite this, a quick internet search of ‘mental illness’ reveals that the subject is handled with a cookie-cutter approach. Stereotypical depictions of a person sitting in the shadows with their head in their hands not only overgeneralize this varied and complex issue, but further stigmatize mental illness and prevent people from seeking the proper help.

Getty Images recently collaborated with one of Australia’s leading mental health charities, SANE Australia, for the first national research project to examine how mental illness is portrayed visually. The Picture This survey of more than 5,000 people – 70% of whom had experienced mental illness – found that the majority of respondents want images that place more emphasis on the human side of mental illness, rather than abstract portrayals or pictures of pills.

Milan Marjanovic

Based on the research results, SANE has developed five recommendations to portray mental illness in an accurate and empathetic way.

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.

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.

Getty Images has hand curated a selection of images that reflect the findings of the Picture This survey. To ensure that the content represents the diversity of mental illness, Getty Images is offering the opportunity for people to contribute their own images to the collection using the five recommendations from SANE as a guideline.

Martin Dimitrov

We are committed to providing a wide range of imagery that accurately and sensitively reflects the experience of mental illness and broadens the options available for those looking to create genuine stories. Working with SANE Australia we can help people visualise a world in which mental illness is portrayed more authentically.

Discover our curated selection of images that depict mental illness in an authentic way. Explore now