Illustrating mental health topics responsibly


Cochrane Common Mental Disorders (CCMD) is a community of people working together to put trusted evidence at the heart of healthcare decisions for people with common mental disorders. 

CCMD asks people with lived experience with mental health services for feedback on the images used in materials produced for them. This ensures that the images chosen are not stereotypical, inappropriate or triggering.

They’ve found that it’s good to show images of people doing everyday things, challenging the idea that people with mental ill health are just in bed or in healthcare settings. 

CCMD have particularly tried to use images created by people who experience mental health problems themselves.

Key guidance

Change the conversation by using images that challenge assumptions and stereotypes about mental health conditions. 

Use different images for different groups of people, representing the variety of young people and their experiences.

Try to create and update your own bespoke images, as this is much better than relying on stock images.

Have a process in place to respond to feedback about images.


  • Be careful to avoid causing any harm or distress. For example, if trying to provide help for suicide and self-harm, some images may act as triggers. Cochrane has released guidance on choosing images. This can also mean being aware of commonly used images that have offended people with mental health problems (for example, the "head clutcher" photo).

  • Consider each image in each context carefully as every situation is different. A certain image used in one context may not be appropriate in another. 

  • Be aware of any biases that may exist when selecting the images. Through research, Cochrane found that minority groups often don’t see themselves represented in mass media, or only represented in negative ways. It is essential to think about ensuring you’re not reinforcing bias and discrimination when selecting images.

Where can I find this?

Cochrane Common Mental Disorders website