Representing Recovery: An Iconography of Mental Health

By Emily Garden.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In contemporary visual discourses surrounding mental health, we often encounter images that speak to, rather than about, those experiencing distress. Many of these images are used within, rather than outside, the mental health sector. These images appear almost ubiquitously in promotions for services or practices that offer the hope of recovery. By analysing these images, a vocabulary used by designers to represent illness and recovery, sickness and health, may be interrogated. The paper considers the effects these images may have on the communities they seek to engage. I argue that these representations draw upon an established and somewhat limited script that defines not only the discourses of designers and their clients, but also ways in which broader communities frame complex issues like depression, psychosis, isolation and suicidality. Frequently perceived as therapeutic, authentic spaces, idealisations of the landscape appear pervasively in the euphemistic vocabulary of mental ill health. I suggest that these often saccarine images, laden with passive signifiers, are not sufficient metaphors to represent complex processes of recovery. I ask why sanitised natural environments, devoid of human presence, are employed in dialogue about issues that are intrinsically human and inherently social.

Keywords: Representation, Mental Illness, Landscape, Metaphor, Graphic Design, Semiotic Analysis

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.41-53. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 752.228KB).

Emily Garden

Social Researcher, Auckland, New Zealand

Emily is a social researcher based in Auckland, New Zealand. With an academic background in graphic design (Auckland) and sociology (Goldsmiths, University of London), Emily has lectured in in Art and Design Theory at AUT University Auckland, New Zealand and worked in community-based mental health and mental health promotion.