Mind is a wonderful charity that exists to provide support for those with mental health conditions. Their “Time to Change” campaign has featured a variety of outreach attempts to try and de-stigmatise mental health conditions. Their latest is something that for many people actually sums up what depression is – the head clutcher image. Google images for depression and you are met with an overwhelming number of images of people crouched, sat or leaning against something all holding their head as if they’ve just hilariously walked under a door that was too low.
The sheer volume of these images and their prominence in Google search engines suggest that this is how depression is seen by many, or at the very least the most common way of depicting it. They are almost always black and white, low lighting and pushing the idea that depressed people are just sad. All the time. That being low down in a heap whilst clutching your head is the way in which depression manifests itself. As a simple image it gets across that something is wrong- but that wrong could be a bumped noggin, a terrible hangover, LOUD NOISES or anything else. It really isn’t helpful that these are the images that crop up to represent depression. And it isn’t just Google images, but a large number of articles on depression seem to use them too. The Daily Mail is a major culprit with head clutch images seemingly the go to stock image of depression, and they also once ran an article saying depression was just a new trendy fad illness.
I understand why people might go for the hands in head picture, it sums up what we perceive depression to be. But in doing so it is helping to perpetuate a very troubling myth- that depression is simply about being sad. I understand the need to have images in an article about depression, but they do not need to be the head clutching one. The Guardian and Independent have written articles on depression and in almost all cases use images of either someone well known as a depressive or a medically themed image. If you need to use an image to go with an article, it is better to go with something that doesn’t perpetuate a myth.
Depression is not simply about feeling sad, in fact sad doesn’t always feature. Depression isn’t being down in the dumps, it can be a total lack of emotion, a feeling of emptiness. I’m currently in something of an episode and I can say that sadness has only played a minor part in that- fear is the bigger component for me. Of course there are times I feel sad, there are times when I sit and cry at 3am and if it was just feeling sad I could probably handle it better. Feeling worthless, feeling empty, feeling paranoid, feeling angry, feeling a fraud, feeling as if you will never feel happy again, feeling that your life is not going anywhere, feeling worthless- these are far more common. But even then, those do not occur constantly, there are times that I am quite happy, outgoing, social, friendly, fun and the polar opposite of a head clutching image. But showing happy smiley people doesn’t seem to be what many perceive of as depression. If I am enthusiastic, excited, happy, smiling, laughing, hanging out with friends then surely I can’t have depression? And yet I do.
There are even people who flat out refuse to believe depression exists and depressives should just snap out of it and move on. If it was simply being sad then maybe that would be easy to do. But its not and it isn’t. Depression on one day might mean I can’t get out of bed, that I might go days without washing or brushing my teeth, then other times I might spring out of bed, spend ages in the bathroom, dress in my best clothes and spend the day laughing and joking with friends. Depression doesn’t mean I am constantly sat in a corner holding my head as if it is about to escape and I find myself in the game Dynamite Heady.
In fact, even when I am really bad, I usually look to an outsider to be perfectly fine and it’s only when we actually get onto the topic that I’ll point out that no, in fact I feel quite unwell.
Depression meaning you are just sad is one of the biggest myths about the illness and it’s one we need to tackle. I am more likely to be anxious, frustrated or angry than I am sad. And I am more likely to outwardly appear happy or at least neutral than I am to appear sad. When I’m in Uni I don’t sit in the corner being all melancholy, I carry on quite normally to the extent that if you didn’t know I was ill you’d think I was fine. When I take to the stage in, say How to Talk to the Dead, I am enthusiastic and energetic. This does take its toll and I can find myself in a depressive state for several days after, but I can present a face to the world that no one would look at and say “That person is depressed”. Because here is the kicker, you can’t look at someone and assume that person must be depressed, because depressed people look like everyone else. Maybe sometimes I look a bit distant or lost in my own thoughts, but I don’t sit there with a frown and tears in my eyes all the time.
And I have never sat there, on the floor in black and white clutching my run away head. Even if at times it feels like my head wants to run away. So I support Minds new campaign. #GoodbyeHeadClutcher
Images sourced from:
Head clutcher man: http://guardianlv.com/2013/09/can-religion-and-spirituality-cause-depression/
Dynamite Heady: http://blogs.gamefilia.com/daman-1985/14-01-2011/38893/el-personaje-de-la-semana-headdy
Picture of me: Personal pictures, taken by J. Hockey