Reporting Without Stigma
Tips for Journalists To Report About Behavioral Health Without Stigma
In 2022, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans experienced a mental illness. Behavioral health conditions impact everyone.
AHCCCS is working to change the way society views mental illness and substance use disorders, and reduce damaging labels that hinder recovery. As the Single State Mental Health Authority for Arizona, AHCCCS is in a unique position to educate and inform journalists, producers, and other media professionals about how to reduce the use of potentially stigmatizing language or imagery in news and media coverage.
Some images and words people use, often unknowingly, add to the stigmas that surround mental illness and addiction, and can hurt those who are trying to recover from complex diseases.
Media coverage has a powerful influence on public perception and can go a long way toward creating compassionate depictions of addiction and mental illness, thereby increasing the chances that individuals with these diseases will seek treatment.
How To Report Without Stigma
- Avoid stereotypes and clichés in language and images,
- Include a public health expert to put the issue of substance use or mental health disorders into context,
- Use person-first language, putting the focus on the person and taking it off the disease,
- Choose a headline that does not sensationalize; avoid euphemisms, and
- Avoid images that could trigger negative responses (drug paraphernalia, simulations, images of unconscious person, people who look sad); opt for a person standing alone to convey isolation, looking into the distance to convey sadness or anxiety, tight shots of hands or face.
|Instead of this:
|Addict, junkie, user, drug user, drunk, alcoholic
|A person with a substance use disorder (SUD), a person is in active addiction
|Former addict, reformed addict, clean
|A person in recovery from…or long-term recovery
|Use, misuse, used other than prescribed (for prescription medications)
|A person is mentally ill
|A person who lives with a mental illness or mental health condition
|A person is schizophrenic, bipolar, anorexic or PTSD
|A person has been diagnosed with… or is experiencing…
|A person committed suicide
|A person died by suicide
Include Crisis Resources
Crisis hotline services are available to anyone, regardless of health insurance coverage. Include national and local crisis lines in stories with this text: If you or someone you know is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, please call one of these national or local crisis lines:
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: dial 988
- The Veterans Crisis Line: dial 988, Press 1
- In Arizona, dial 1-844-534-4673 or text HOPE to 4HOPE (44673)
Include Treatment Resources
Other Reporting Resources
- State of Ohio, BeattheStigma.org Media Resource Guide, 2021
- The Carter Center, Journalism Resource Guide on Behavioral Health, 2015
- Reportingonsuicide.org, Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, 2022
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, Words Matter Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction
- National Alliance on Mental Illness