Friday, March 08, 2013

Writing With Style

I thought people might be interested to know that the Associated Press just updated its style manual to give guidance to journalists writing about people with mental illness. Besides the obvious advice like "don't use words like 'crazy' or 'nuts'" (and it's sad they'd really have to tell someone not to do that), they also advise journalists not to automatically attribute the behaviors they're covering to mental illness: "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." Writers were advised that violence alone is not solely a sign of mental illness and to avoid relying on bystanders' statements that the subject of a story is mentally ill.

 This is good. Now the American Psychiatric Association needs to put together a style manual for talking head mental health types. If you go in front of a camera or behind a microphone (or keyboard) to comment on someone in the news and their alleged mental problems, you should know your professional and ethical limits. I've written about the problem of mental health professionals in high profile cases before over on Clinical Psychiatry News.

 This is not to say that mental health professionals shouldn't be involved in the media. They can provide a broader context for a story, correct inaccuracies and give an 'insiders' view of a story that may help the people get a better handle on what's going on. But, this should be done responsibly.