Changing our view of mental health

From stock images to ad campaigns and TV dramas, we take a look the creative projects that are challenging stigmas around mental health problems – and offering a more nuanced portrayal of conditions from anxiety to OCD 

For all the progress we’ve made on talking about mental health, stereotypes and stigmas still exist. But visual culture – from TV shows to stock photographs and ad campaigns – can play a vital role in changing people’s perceptions and showing what it’s really like to live with complex conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Here, we talk to Samaritans, Refinery29 and Mind about visualising the invisible, giving people hope and tackling visual clichés. We also explore how imagemakers can create more accurate and realistic portrayals of mental illness.


In a sector where complex ideas have to be condensed into 30-second TV spots and eye-catching posters, talking about mental health problems presents a difficult challenge. Advertising is often judged on its impact and ability to get people talking, but there’s a balance to be struck between raising awareness, and being sensitive to people who’ve been directly affected by the issues raised in a campaign. Bleak statistics or hard-hitting imagery might be effective at grabbing attention, but without the right care, there’s a danger they could be upsetting, alienating or triggering to the very people they’re supposed to help.

This is a problem that suicide prevention charity Samaritans is all too aware of. With its public-facing campaigns, the charity – which provides a 24-hour helpline and support for people in emotional distress – has to raise awareness of suicide and the struggles that people might be facing, while also reassuring those who are going through a difficult time that they’re not alone, and that Samaritans is always there to help.