Veteran journalist offers advice on covering mental health issues: Be careful, creative, and balanced, not discriminatory

The term ‘mental health’ has been tossed around a lot lately in stories about Kentucky’s mental health funding and mental health coverage through Medicaid expansion. It’s important to use precise language when writing about the topic, because a fourth of Americans are affected by mental-health issues each year, and many  don’t seek treatment due to its stigma.

“Fair, accurate and balanced portrayals of mental health in the news media are so important,” says Melissa McCoy of the California Newspaper Publishers Association. She notes that studies show coverage of mental health is mostly reactive, responding to a school shooting or n act of violence, which could skew public perceptions about mental illness. She says journalists should “provide accurate coverage of mental health without adding to its stigma” or to the discrimination faced by those with mental illness.

Journalists can seek balance by asking themselves about the relevance of mental health to the story and making sure to use the right type of language, says McCoy; be creative about mental health coverage by integrating it into stories about general health, veterans returning from war, substance abuse recovery, unemployment or even stress among students. 

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