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Entry on Mental Illness is Added to AP Stylebook

Associated Press develops new conventions for reporting on mental health


Santa Barbara, CA, May 30, 2013 — The Associated Press recently added an entry on mental illness to the AP Stylebook. The news media’s impact on public attitudes is profound, and ensuring that media portrayals of mental illness and individuals living with mental challenges are accurate and balanced is vitally important.

The new entry in The Associated Press Stylebook directs news media to avoid describing people as mentally ill unless someone’s mental health is clearly pertinent to a story and the person’s diagnosis is properly sourced. The new entry addresses the assumption that mental illness is a factor in violent crime and identifies that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators. It also suggests a more precise use of language, such as avoiding derogatory terms in health and non-health stories.

“We applaud the recent guidelines the Associated Press has made for reporting on mental health,” said Annmarie Cameron, Mental Wellness Center CEO. “It is my hope that these new guidelines will present an opportunity for journalists to breakdown the stigma and false understanding that currently surround the topic of mental illness.”


The first step is to ask oneself these three questions before covering a mental health-related story:

1) Is mental illness relevant to the story?  If a personals mental health or mental state is not pertinent to the  story, and does not relate to the story in a meaningful way, there is no need to mention the person’s mental state-of-mind.

2) What is your source for the mental illness diagnosis?  Do not rely on hearsay when it pertains to anindividual’s mental health condition. Rely on professional, accurate diagnosis when reporting on an individual’s mental health.

3) What is the most accurate language to use? To avoid stereotypes, be specific as possible and avoid usingderogatory words; stick to accepted medical terms.

There are many other items to consider as well. Overtime, an emphasis on breaking news focusing on stories linking violence to mental illness can skew a public’s view of the mentally ill. When a story links mental illness and crime, avoid the assumption that the crime was committed because of mental illness. More often than not people with mental illness are the victims opposed to the perpetrators.

It is also vital to include stories that include perspectives from mental health experts to provide context and the latest research; report on stories regarding the systematic issues around the topic of mental illness such as new medications and therapy treatments; and also publish profiles of people with mental illness who have become active members of the community and live acceptable lives with rewarding relationships and responsibilities.
To learn more about the recent mental health updates to the AP Stylebook, visit


About the Mental Wellness Center

The Mental Wellness Center is a private, non-profit organization providing recovery, education, and family services to adults and families affected by mental illness. For more information, please call (805) 884-8440 or visit




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