Quick Tips to Improve Mental Health Reporting

Eliminating Stigmatizing Language and Stereotypes

  • Use and encourage editors, headline writers and others to use People First Language. Follow the guidance from the AP Stylebook for reporting on people with disabilities. Use phrases like “a person with schizophrenia” rather than describing someone as “schizophrenic.” Maintain the individuality of people rather than defining them by a condition. People First Language emphasizes worth and abilities and puts the person before the diagnosis or the label.
  • As with any disparaging words related to race and ethnicity, some words should never be used in reporting, commentary or headlines. Examples include:

    crazy/crazed          nuts           lunatic
    deranged              psycho       wacko

  • Negative stereotypes to describe people experiencing mental disorders should be avoided. They sensationalize news stories and contribute to stigma and discrimination towards mental illness in society. Common stereotypes about mental illness pertain to dangerousness, incompetence and the portrayal of people with mental illnesses as anti-social.
  • Phrases such as afflicted with, crippled with, suffers from, victim of, stricken with pass negative judgment on the quality of life for people with mental illnesses. “John is afflicted with depression” sounds more dramatic and can act to sensationalize mental illness.Instead, use People First Language. For example: “John, who has depression . . .”
  • Pictures are powerful. Be sensitive when using photographs with stories involving mental illness. For example, photographs that unnecessarily show people with mental illness looking disheveled or ominous perpetuate negative stereotypes.