Is It Wrong to Use So-Called “Headclutching” Photos & the Word Suffering?

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.







5 thoughts on “Is It Wrong to Use So-Called “Headclutching” Photos & the Word Suffering?

  1. darie73

    I honestly believe there is too much over thinking going on. The other problem is the criticism and judgement from other people who have actually been where you’ve been. I find this to be most surprising. I never find it on my blog, only on Twitter. I had worked myself in to such a frenzy of emotions I was on the floor crying! When I finally calmed down and went back to my computer I realized it was 1 person I was dealing with who wasn’t exactly in a stable place. I didn’t realize this until I read her profile saying she was the Governor of Hogwart’s and replied to me she was kidnapped and “injected” by the police. At that point I had to let it all go. It wasn’t her fault, I should’ve been more aware of who I was having a conversation with. It’s extremely hard to advocate in a way where you don’t offend other people and still stay true to your own beliefs.


    1. allevin18 Post author

      I think you have some really good points. I think it’s important to not take things personally. We never know the whole story of the person giving the criticism or from where their concerns come. I was wondering if I, too, was overthinking when I chose to write a post on “Headclutching” photos and the words ‘suffering’ and ‘stigma’. However, all of the topics struck a chord with me, so I decided it was important enough for me to share my thoughts.

      Thank you very much for commenting on my posts! I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. darie73

        When something is bothering me it will stay with me until I find a way to release it. The healthy way is write about it. I felt shame over my Auntie Donna because I turned out to have a mental illness and thought I was the last person that should’ve been hiding. I was young and didn’t know but I feel guilt about many things. I never stop feeling, to the extreme, and that’s the problem.


  2. s.e. taylor

    I personally do not take issue with head clutching photos. Before reading this, it never occurred to me that anyone would. In my blog posts I use photos that I feel show the emotions that I am writing about. After reading this I’m sure my photos likely offend some people. Sounds harsh, but I have no intention of taking mine down. The only picture I would consider taking down is one that might be a trigger for some people. (It’s a bloody fist punching a mirror, likely way more offensive than a head clutching photo)


    1. allevin18 Post author

      Thanks for your comments. It really surprised me, too. It was a new perspective for me to consider. I still use the photos. What has become the most important consideration for me is to make sure that I have a variety of types of photos. Depression isn’t always a head-clutching type of feeling. So, I try to use a variety of people with a variety of expressions. I typically use men, as much of the advocacy I do focuses on men with depression. However, I also try to make sure I include men of other ethnicities, as depression can hit anybody. Thanks again for your comments and for reading my blog! Al

      Liked by 1 person


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