Research by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy shows the loaded words used to describe drug addiction, such as “clean” vs. “dirty,” can actually drive people away from getting help, The Huffington Post reported in March.
The same is true of terminology used to describe mental illness, where phrases such as “unsuccessful suicide” can exacerbate rather than improve the dialogue surrounding suicide and depression.
Mental illness cuts across a wide swath of society. One in five Americans will experience a mental health issue in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and many say they feel stigmatized for their illness by friends, family, strangers and the media.
Because media reporting has a large impact on the public’s perception of mental illness and can be fraught with tough language choices, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) put together a rubric to help journalists write responsibility about mental illness and suicide.
Many in the field of mental health hope it’ll serve as a guide for everyone.
“Words are very important,” Michelle Riba, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Health System, told HuffPost. (Riba is also a former president of the APA, but did not have a hand in compiling the organization’s mental illness reporting guidelines.) “Let me just say that this is not just for reporters. I think this helps us all think about ways to talk about these issues and communicate.”
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