In order for me to drive traffic to this blog, I have been tweeting for some time with the handle of @allevin18. Recently, a follower with a huge following retweeted one of my tweets. That always gets me quite excited, as it would ideally get me more followers on Twitter and at the same time hopefully bring a larger following to this blog. I asked this follower if he would mind tweeting my “Pinned Tweet”, as well, explaining how I was attempting to get more followers to my blog. I was surprised at his response, which was that he typically does not forward tweets that include the so-called “Head-clutching” photos.
Although I had never heard the term, I knew exactly what he was referring to. I had read in many articles describing techniques to increase followers on Twitter that it was important to include photos. I immediately began to search photos for depression and many of them included photos of men with their head clasped between their hands, showing a sense of agony or pain or frustration.
When I sent a private message to the follower, I told him that I was curious to have a better understanding on why these photos were not wise to use. He directed me to an article titled, “Saying Goodbye to ‘Headclutcher’ Photos” by Rethink Mental Illness. The article describes the main problem with the photos being that they,
“…are stigmatising. They show us a stereotype of a person with mental illness – that they are in perpetual despair, isolated and without hope. And while it is true that sometimes a person with a mental health problem might clutch their head, that’s also true of anyone, mental illness or not.”
While I very much respect the follower who I was communicating with on the topic and I respect and believe strongly in the work of the organizations involved in the campaigns, I have an opinion on “headclutching” photos that may not be completely aligned with their thoughts.
First, I have to admit that for fear of offending anybody, I immediately removed all of the “headclutching” photos from my library of photos and began to use other photos. However, I continued to read more and reflect more on the topic. I would not, for example, use a photo of a disheveled panhandler. I believe this would be stereotyping a type of person. The “headclutching” photos tend to stereoptype a feeling or an emotion. While I do not want to paint the picture that everybody who has depression is at a point in which they would continually be clutching their head, there certainly are times in which the feeling that the photos convey is quite accurate. So, if one includes a photo of someone smiling, does that mean that people with depression are always smiling (or possibly masking their depression)? If it is picture of a large man, does that mean that we are stereotyping that only large men get depression? If it’s a picture of a black man, are we saying that only black men have depression? While I was working through my major depressive disorder, a “headclutching” photo would have accurately depicted how I was feeling.
The same goes for the word “suffer” that many advocates feel we should not use when discussing the topic of depression or describing someone with depression. While I understand very well that we would not want to leave the inaccurate impression that people with depression are in a continual state of suffering, I also believe that there are times in which people with depression are suffering and to not use the word could very well diminish the amount of anguish and struggles that the person may be going through. If anybody told me that I did not suffer when I was battling a bout of major depression, they are completely mistaken. I would agree that we should state that a person “is living with depression”, as many advocates now propose. However, if the person is currently out of work due to a major episode, I believe it is fine to describe the person as, “currently suffering from depression”. So, in general, people “live with depression”. However, at times, they clearly may be “suffering” from depression.
As far as “headclutching” photos, my belief is that we need to include a variety of photos; photos of people of different ethnicities, different genders (although, in my case, I typically use pictures of men, as that is a large focus of the advocating I do), different expressions, different sizes, dressed differently, etc.
People who live with depression certainly do not suffer or struggle (or clutch their head between their hands) all throughout their lives. I would not want to mistakenly give that impression to others. If we use the word “suffer” we should be sure that it is specifically referring to a moment in time. While I believe there are much more critical conversations to be having around mental illness, I do believe how we portray mental illness and the language we use is very important.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. As always, I encourage people to comment on this post and/or any other posts of mine.