Visualizing Mental Health

Trends / Wellness
Zach Wolfe
Rebecca Rom-Frank
May 26, 2020
From The Scream to The Sopranos, visual representations of mental health are always evolving, normalizing the topic along the way. Our own Visual GPS data confirms that 91% of consumers think it's important to talk about mental health, and 90% say they try to take care of themselves emotionally. The COVID‑19 pandemic brought about an isolating and precarious new reality, causing global concern for not only physical health, but mental health, as well. In light of this, brands are eager to connect with customers emotionally, with visuals that are nuanced, authentic, and inclusive.

The first wave of advertisements in the COVID‑19 era addressed mental health, but many were critiqued for being too sentimental and formulaic. Once the “new normal” of life indoors sunk in, brands began to show people maintaining their mental health at home. An IKEA ad shows members of the LGBTQ+ community sharing joyful moments with loved ones; a series of Maltesers ads take the form of a realistic video chat amongst friends; Dove captures the excitement of DIY haircuts with user‑generated footage. All of these ads celebrate everyday, simple pleasures, and exhibit a range of nuanced emotions beyond just happiness, showing a vision of mental health that is close to home.
Yoga has long been the go‑to symbol for wellness—it captures the trifecta of physical, emotional, and spiritual health that comprise a holistic sense of wellbeing. For context, yoga first appeared in commercial imagery in the early 2000’s, in order to soothe consumers into spending again after the Dot‑Com financial crash. Today, at Getty Images, yoga is the 36th most searched‑for term, out of a million. Yoga imagery may border on cliché, but it doesn’t have to be. Visuals that portray yoga as casual, fun, and inclusive of a wide range of ages, body types, and ethnicities can still appear fresh and relevant. Yoga and meditation practices are more popular than ever, but represent only one way that some people maintain their mental health.

At Getty Images, our customers were already interested in mental health; the COVID‑19 pandemic accelerated that interest, tailored to better reflect reality. In April, searches for “yoga at home” shot up +1160%; “meditation at home” grew +5900%; and “online therapy” grew +1130%. Even as searches for “self isolation” and “anxiety” increased, positive terms such as “resilience” (+116%) and “togetherness” (+114%) rose, too, indicating that our customers are always looking to tell positive visual stories, especially in difficult times.
By modeling an authentic, inclusive vision of mental health, brands can connect with customers emotionally.
Although society has come a long way towards de‑stigmatizing conversations around mental health, there is always more work to be done. Media consumption has increased significantly during the pandemic, but a 2019 study by the University of Southern California found that film and television still fails to accurately represent mental health issues. Especially now, there is a real opportunity for commercial advertising to fill the gap and connect with consumers over an issue that means the world to them, so it's important that brands get it right. Therefore, it's vital to include people of all races, ethnicities, abilities, body types, and gender identities in visual stories about mental health, as well.

Because mental health means something different to everyone, showing everyday pleasures provides endless possibilities. Whether it’s spending time with friends and family, caring for pets, connecting with nature, or practicing a musical instrument, the little things go a long way. By modeling an authentic, inclusive vision of mental health, brands can connect with customers emotionally, and even leave them feeling empowered.
Visual GPS: Wellness