In a first, the “journalist’s bible” will include guidance for reporters on how to write about mental illness and conditions like autism.
Officials behind the influential Associated Press Stylebook say they’ve added a new entry for “mental illness.”
The addition to the guide — which is relied upon by reporters at news outlets nationwide — advises journalists not to mention a diagnosis of autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other mental disorders unless it is germane to the story and properly sourced.
What’s more, when mentioning a person’s mental illness in a news story, the AP Stylebook urges reporters to be as specific as possible about their diagnosis and include examples of symptoms. Journalists are advised to “avoid descriptions that connote pity,” stay away from terms like insane, crazy, nuts or deranged and told not to assume that mental illness is associated with violent crime.
“It is the right time to address how journalists handle questions of mental illness in coverage,” said Kathleen Carroll, executive editor and senior vice president at the AP. “When is such information relevant to a story? Who is an authoritative source for a person’s illness, diagnosis and treatment? These are very delicate issues and this Stylebook entry is intended to help journalists work through them thoughtfully, accurately and fairly.”
Citing the National Institute of Mental Health, autism is one of the conditions listed under mental illness, but the entry includes a note indicating that “many experts consider autism a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.”
The new listing was immediately added to the online version of the AP Stylebook and will be included in the 2013 print edition which is expected to be published this spring, officials said.
While the entry for “mental illness” is new, this is not the first time that the guide has been updated to clarify how journalists should refer to those with various disabilities. In 2008, for example, the manual was updated to indicate that the term “mentally retarded” was no longer acceptable, replacing it with “mentally disabled.”
The AP Stylebook also includes entries for “disabled, handicapped, impaired” and “Asperger’s syndrome.”