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Let’s Talk About the Way We Talk About Mental Illness


It’s no secret that stigma is one of the biggest barriers people face in their willingness to seek out mental health care. Something that is often taken for granted, however, is the impact that language can have when speaking about people with mental illness.

That’s why I applaud the resource guide for journalists that our friends at the Carter Center recently released. “The Carter Center Journalism Resource Guide on Behavioral Health” is aimed at helping members of the media who cover mental health related issues to do so fairly and accurately. This is extremely important considering how much influence the media has in shaping public attitudes and opinions. A similar guide by the APA can be found on our site.

As I wrote in my column for Psychiatric News back in June, psychiatrists need to take a leadership role in monitoring the language used by the media and others in our society as it pertains to the discussion of mental illness. Words like “lunatic,” “maniac” and “crazy person” have obviously negative and stigmatizing connotations, but our vigilance needs to extend beyond those dangerous terms.

Kenneth Cole’s stigmatizing billboard is a great example of how well-meaning individuals can still cause stigma and do great harm to the 40 million Americans that live with mental illness every day. APA condemned the designer’s attempt to link gun violence and mental illness, and requested that he take the billboard down.

We took our stance because that kind of disinformation scapegoats a vulnerable segment of the population, and as psychiatrists, we believed inaction in this matter would be against the best interests of our patients.

Words Matter: Reporting on Mental Health Conditions

Uselful tips for covering mental illness accurately.

I’m hopeful that resources such as the Carter Center’s resource guide and ours will find wide readership among members of the media. Responsible and accurate public discourse will be beneficial to people living with mental illness and those of us who treat them. Mental health issues need to be viewed in the same light as illnesses such as cancer or diabetes.

Seeking or receiving mental health care should never be a mark of shame or discredit. If we can work together to reinforce a responsible and intelligent public dialogue about mental illness, it won’t be.


Patients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderPresident Blog


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  • Martha

    I hope we find more social workers in hospital train for LEAP so when they talk to consumers they convince them to take the medications after they get out of tshe hospitals.


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