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The AP Stylebook on Mental Health

The AP Stylebook hasn’t been my favorite in the news. Recently, a memo was leaked showing some bigoted plans for same-sex spouses. (After the inevitable doubling-down, the AP did retract it.) But this has put me in a slightly better mood–the AP Stylebook now has an entry in mental illness. I strongly suggest reading the whole thing, but here are some of my favorite parts.

Avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic.

Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.”

Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.

Wherever possible, rely on people with mental illness to talk about their own diagnoses.

Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.

I used to copy edit for our campus paper–spending a few evenings a week cross-referencing with the Stylebook. This will do real good. Plus, now we can point out journalists who disregard the rules by pointing to specific things they’ve ignored.

h/t Ozy Frantz

Comments

  1. erikabutler says

    Request: Could you do a post on the difference between psychosis and psychopathy? I see these two terms confused a lot, even though they’re two completely different things. I’ve especially seen psychotic where I know the person meant psychopathic.

  2. says

    I know that was a surprising, but welcome, update for this copy editor to receive. We’re usually so careful with legalese, but it’s been so haphazard with mental health terminology. Progress!

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