6373 1600x400

Working with language

Language is powerful and influences how we see society. It can also reinforce stereotypes and contribute to discrimination.

Here are some tips for anyone producing content on people with experience of mental illness or distress.

Alternatives for describing mental illness and distress

  • Talk about the person rather than describing them by a label. For example, "Anna has bipolar disorder" or “Anna has a diagnosis of bipolar”, rather than "Anna is bipolar”.
  • This is the same for plurals. “They are schizophrenics” becomes “They have schizophrenia”.
  • There are many different mental illnesses and each person is different. Say "people with depression" instead of "the mentally ill". "Jack has a mental illness" or "Jack has been diagnosed with a mental illness" rather than "Jack has mental illness".
  • Use positive statements rather than placing judgement on people. For example, "men with experience of depression" instead of ‘suffering from', being a ‘victim of’ or ‘afflicted with’ a mental illness. 7091
  • If someone leaves a mental health facility without staff knowledge, say they "left the facility". Using the word 'escape' suggests they are incarcerated. The majority of patients in mental health facilities have not committed a crime.

Visual language 

  • Images can influence your view of a story. It’s easy to contribute to negative stereotypes by using photos of people looking upset or menacing.
  • People with experience of mental illness or distress are the same as everyone else. Choose images that correspond to your story and show people in everyday situations.
  • For examples of appropriate and positive imagery, see the images used on this site.

Helplines

  • Please include information about help services with your content.
  • The most up-to-date helplines are listed on the Mental Health Foundation website.

More information

Good reads

Ellie Ainge Roy HR

Sunday Star-Times a responsible employer

Ellie Ainge Roy

Sometimes it seems like it’s a real challenge to find media people... Read more

Robyn Yousef crop full res

Going public for greater good

Robyn Yousef

After years of mulling over an idea, Robyn Yousef finally decided to... Read more

ShortlandStreet image

Portraying mental illness on the small screen

Shortland Street

Fictional characters with experience of mental illness are often one-dimensional, frequently disappointing... Read more

MMorrah 6x4

Challenge the stigma behind Raurimu

Michael Morrah

How do you tell a story of extreme mental distress? And if... Read more

yvonne2

Award for rural mental health resources

Yvonne O'Hara

Yvonne O’Hara was late coming to journalism, but fast catching up. “I... Read more

Editorial news media image 2

Editorial

Why the media matters

Research indicates that uninformed media coverage of mental distress can contribute to... Read more