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Friday, March 8, 2013

Entry on 'mental illness' added to Associated Press Stylebook

I got an email message March 7 from the Associated Press announcing its newest entry in the AP Stylebook: mental illness.

Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor, says in a news release:

It is the right time to address how journalists handle questions of mental illness in coverage. 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 get messages about AP's additions and revisions as a paid subscriber to the online version of the manual.)

Here's some advice from the new entry, including use of related terms:
Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced. 
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. ... 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. ...
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. ...
Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Rather, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder. ...
Use the term mental or psychiatric hospital, not asylum. ...   
The entry describes some common mental disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and gives the institute's Web address for use as a reference. AP notes:
[M]ental illnesses or disorders are lowercase, except when known by the name of a person, such as Asperger’s syndrome ....   
The new entry describes how to refer to mental illness in a violent crime--and if it should be mentioned at all.

AP also provides advice similar to recommendations I've been reading in another new reference, Sick English, that I'll be reviewing soon. AP says 
Avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic. ...
I also appreciated this related AP advice:
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. 
The only related reference in my online writing guide, Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual, is in the disabled entry. I must follow AP's direction and add some advice about mental illness.
The AP news release is featured today, March 8, in my daily online papers, Garbl's Style: Write Choices and Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs. They're available at the Editorial Style and Plain Language tabs above and by free email subscription.

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