Entry on mental illness is added to AP Stylebook
March 7, 2013
The Associated Press today added an entry on mental illness to the AP Stylebook.
“It is the right time to address how journalists handle questions of mental illness in coverage,” said AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. “This isn’t only a question of which words one uses to describe a person’s illness. There are important journalistic questions, too.
“When is such information relevant to a story? Who is an authoritative source for a person’s illness, diagnosis and treatment? These are very delicate issues and this Stylebook entry is intended to help journalists work through them thoughtfully, accurately and fairly.”
When used, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows. Don’t rely on hearsay or speculate on a diagnosis. Specify the time frame for the diagnosis and ask about treatment. A person’s condition can change over time, so a diagnosis of mental illness might not apply anymore. Avoid anonymous sources. On-the-record sources can be family members, mental health professionals, medical authorities, law enforcement officials and court records. Be sure they have accurate information to make the diagnosis. Provide examples of symptoms.
Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents. She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents. He was treated for depression.
Some common mental disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (mental illnesses or disorders are lowercase, except when known by the name of a person, such as Asperger’s syndrome):
– Autism spectrum disorders. These include Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Many experts consider autism a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.
– Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness)
– Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
– Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Here is website of the National Institute of Mental Health that can be used as a reference.
Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.
Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.
Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.” Such comments should always be attributed to someone who has knowledge of the person’s history and can authoritatively speak to its relevance to the incident.
Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Rather, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Double-check specific symptoms and diagnoses. Avoid interpreting behavior common to many people as symptoms of mental illness. Sadness, anger, exuberance and the occasional desire to be alone are normal emotions experienced by people who have mental illness as well as those who don’t.
Wherever possible, rely on people with mental illness to talk about their own diagnoses.
Avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic.
Use the term mental or psychiatric hospital, not asylum.
See Asperger’s syndrome; disabled, handicapped; phobia; post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Transition Employment: My Story
By Mike Stier
I write this because I have had an extremely positive TE experience. For those who do not know, a TE is a ‘Transitional Employment’ job. It is designed to help people like me get back to work. It is secured through a clubhouse to serve as a temporary job for an individual member to work for six to nine months. The clubhouse provides a great deal of support to build the up on their way to more independent and permanent employment. When the time at the job is done, another member takes the job and repeat.
The TE program was actually the main reason I joined Potter Place. And yet when I was approached to see if I’d want to do the library TE, I almost turned it down. Not because I did not want to work. I desperately wanted to find a work situation that was sustainable and I strongly believed that the TE program was the way to go. It was because I didn’t think I would be good enough for the job in question.
Up to that point I had a whole handful of work experiences that distressingly did not end well, even though I was trying my hardest. Even though I had always done well in school and graduated from college. I was beat down. My self-esteem was at an all-time low and I honestly doubted whether I would be able to keep and hold any paid job.
This TE made all the difference in the world. To be aware that the people at this library were knowingly and willingly employing people with mental illness- that it was not something I had to hide- made such a huge difference. TE employers don’t just tolerate that fact of mental illness if and when it becomes apparent, like some of my previous employers. They truly embrace it. And the way training was offered- by staff at the clubhouse (not employees at the job) was tremendously helpful. Being trained by someone who has my psychological state prime in his / her mind, understanding and accepting my fragility, and willing to be as patient in training me as was necessary for me to master the work at hand (TE trainings last as long as the worker feels necessary).
Six months later, I am feeling as confident about this job as I have ever been in any job. I really and truly enjoy it. I almost always feel significantly happier and with more peace of mind by the end of the work day than at the beginning. My co-workers appreciate me and like me and vice versa. I have more confidence in my prospects for future employment. I have strong references for whenever I might need them. And I have tremendous gratitude for the TE program which made this all possible.
I am a living testament to the importance of this program, to the fact that it works (for all parties involved), that it matters. That it helps people get their lives back together, get back to work in a gentle, supportive manner. Big shout out to the people at Potter Place who gave me the chance and believed in me and supported me the whole way. Shout out to all of my colleagues at the library who always made me feel welcome and comfortable and appreciated. Finally, shout out to clubhouses everywhere, who make the TE program possible for people like me.
First published in the FEBRUARY, 2013 issue of INNERWORKS a newsletter of the Charles Webster Potter Place Club house. Reprinted with permission.