Is this what depression looks like? Visual narratives of depression on social media

Syed Ali Hussain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Humans are inherent storytellers that in turn shapes our identity. The tendency to talk about health and illness is called ‘illness narratives.’ Most research on illness narratives is generated from diaries, interviews, and surveys. However, text is not the only means of expression. An alternative is to produce images of illness, known as ‘visual illness narratives.’ Depression is a common and serious illness, which can lead to serious health hazards. Despite the increased use of images on social media, little research has been done on visual narratives of depression. The current study examines such illness narratives elicited through images on Tumblr. Fourteen patients with moderately severe depression (Mean age = 27), mostly female (N = 12) were recruited from a counselling centre. Participants were presented with 72 depression-related images from Tumblr in a semi-structured interview. Participants sorted the images into three piles, based on personal relevance, and then talked in detail about each image. Inductive thematic analysis identified six themes providing rich insights into participants’ depressive states, dysfunctional thoughts, suicidal ideation, lifestyle changes, help-seeking, and social struggles. The study offers insights to improve care for depressed individuals using visuals of depression on social media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-259
Number of pages15
JournalVisual Studies
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - May 26 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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