Another take on talking about mental illness

by Joanne Kelly

Back in February, Rev. Alan Johnson wrote a blog post titled Words matter: How should we talk about mental illness?” Now, we are happy to report that others are realizing words matter: In early March, The Associated Press added an entry to its style book that will guide journalists through the sticky wicket of reporting on people with mental illnesses. Even more exciting, it goes beyond the topic of using words appropriately.

“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.”

I applaud the Associated Press for taking this step. I encourage everyone to read the AP Stylebook entry and incorporate its guidelines into the way we talk – and think – about people with mental illnesses. Here’s hoping that faith communities — clergy, staff and lay leaders – will lead the way in taking these guidelines to heart and putting them into practice so all of us can address mental health issues thoughtfully, accurately and fairly.

Joanne Kelly

Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and Caring Clergy Project

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.

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