UK Picture Editors' Guild backs campaign against use of 'head clutcher' pictures for mental health stories

Danny Buckland is a freelance journalist who has worked for the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror. He writes regularly about mental health issues and general health across national titles and websites and has become increasingly concerned about the use of ‘head clutcher’ images in print, on TV and on the web. He is part of a campaigning group that includes mental health charities, service users and other journalists who want to find a better way to illustrate stories about mental health. Here, he gives an update on the progress of the campaign:

The campaign to banish stigmatising 'head clutcher’ images (example above, Shutterstock) from British media has just won powerful backing from picture editors.

The respected UK Picture Editors’ Guild has called for desks and agencies to stop using stereotyping shots when illustrating stories and features on mental health.

It is the first time the guild has backed a charity and marks a significant advance in the push to block ‘head clutchers’, which have been the default stock image for a generation.

The guild has worked with the charity Time to Change, campaigners and mental health service users to create a new image bank.

Shot by the photographic agency Newscast, the images are free to use and have a more positive feel than bleak model-posed pictures of people clutching their heads in despair.

“In 40 years the Guild has never supported a charity but we feel this is a charitable cause we can support because we can have an influence,” said chairman Alan Sparrow, a former picture editor at The Guardian and Metro.

“We are choosing images on a daily basis that can make a difference so the responsibility falls on us to make the right choices.

“I was unsure how members and picture editors would respond but they have embraced it far more than I was expecting. Many have related tales of mental health issues from their families and that brings this campaign home.”

The guild, which has members on national and regional newspapers, the Press Association, Getty Images, agencies and websites, has won widespread praise across mental health communities for its stance.

“Our hopes are that by the end of the year, the head clutcher image will be a thing of the past,” added Sparrow.

Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, said: “We recognise that mental health can be a complex topic to illustrate, which is perhaps why we’ve seen so much use of an over-simplistic ‘head clutcher’ shot over the years.

“For some time, campaigners have been highlighting the negative impact of the image in the media so we wanted to combine our efforts and come up with a way of offering picture editors a fresh and more realistic range of photographs.

"These images are freely available to all media, and we hope to add to the bank of photos over time. We urge picture editors to use them and say goodbye to the head clutcher once and for all.”

See the pictures at

To learn more about the UK Picture Editors’ Guild, visit:

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