What do mental health struggles look like?

Last October 10th (World Mental Health Day), Norwich City -an English Football club- released a unique video campaign to address mental health and suicide among its fans. 

For  2 minutes, we see 2 Norwich fans in their stadium seats, week after week. On the right side of the screen, the first fan follows every action of the game with a wide range of emotions: anger, excitement, frustration, or joy. On the left side, the second fan remains silent, with a lifeless gaze and a sad expression that doesn’t disappear during the video.

After mentioning that «at times, it can be obvious when someone is struggling to cope,» the video presents the same exact scene, except this time, one of the seats is empty. Contrary to our expectations, it’s the fan previously seen on the right side who won’t be coming back to see Norwich play again.

We read a new message saying that «sometimes the signs are harder to spot» and are left with a delicate question: what do mental struggles really look like?

Improving mental health portrayal

Mental health is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s society. The Norwich video campaign, or this one by the Stiftung Deutsche Depressionshilfe, teaches us about the many different ways mental struggles look. Even the 2024 Color of the Year, Peach Fuzz, advocates self-care and mental well-being.

As stock content creators, offering a realistic depiction of mental struggles is crucial. And we want to give you some tips on how to do it.

1. Avoid stereotypes and cliches

Break away from cliché when representing mental struggles

When thinking about mental struggles, there’s a specific image that quickly comes into everybody’s mind: a person holding their face in their hands while sitting in the corner of a dark, gloomy room. Perhaps wearing their pajamas, most probably looking as ragged as they can look. But as the Norwich campaign accurately depicts, mental illnesses such as depression are not always that easy to identify. By breaking away from these stereotypes, we can help people offer a helping hand before it is too late and break the stigmas associated with these struggles.

2. Be inclusive

Be inclusive when depicting mental struggles

It is a stated fact that new generations struggle more with their mental health than older ones. However, we can’t stop depicting adults or older people facing this kind of struggle, too. Make your designs and images as inclusive as people, including both genres and all age groups.

3. Go for visual metaphors

Use visual metaphors to show what mental struggles feel like

Visual metaphors will also help you break away from cliche images and allow more freedom when depicting mental illnesses. Because of their nature, mental struggles don’t usually show recognizable physical signs, making it harder for people to understand how they feel. Through illustration or photo montages, you can more accurately depict the sensations associated with mental struggles and help anyone instantly relate to the pain they cause.


4. Show the good times too

The recovery process is just as important

As with any other disease, the recovery from mental illnesses is just as important, if not more, as the illness itself. Spending quality time with family or friends, finding moments throughout the day for self-care, or going to therapy are scenes that should also be associated with mental health.


5. Don’t show the face of your protagonist

Go for subtle details

This is one of the most risky yet impactful and clever ways of depicting mental struggles. Focus on close shots that avoid showing your protagonist’s face- go instead for an untidy room, a pile of dishes in a sink, or the way a pair of hands caress or gives a hug. These images expand the visuals usually associated with mental health and make a qualitative difference from anything anyone else might show.

As you can see, there are so many diverse paths you can take when depicting mental health and mental illnesses. We hope you find this article useful, and please remember to check on everyone around you.

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