The Lexicon: International Media Guide for Mental Health
By some estimates, mental illness affects one in four individuals at some point during life. However, even though mental illness is a common occurrence, stigma attached to it is still rampant. American and European societies have developed a great amount of sensitivity to a variety of issues surrounding discrimination; considering this “great sensitivity,” why is it that such great stigma is still attached to mental illness? This stigma not only affects an individual’s self-esteem but can prevent one from the basic functions needed to succeed in life. For instance, many employers ask questions regarding past mental health issues during the hiring process and, according to one advocacy group, fewer than 20 percent of those with serious mental illness are able to hold down a job.
Many of the improper ideas that the public has about mental illness are created by literary fiction, TV drama and film, even television news-reporting and news publications. For this reason, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has begun a publications program to target media leaders. “The Lexicon: International Media Guide for Mental Health” is a guide to be placed in the hands of senior journalists across the world that gives both information on different types of mental illness as well as examples of appropriate language for discussion. The Lexicon is one of many initiatives by WFMH to end the stigma associated with mental illness, stigma that, according to a recent survey conducted by AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company, is felt by 88 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder. The following is an excerpt of an article from Medical News Today that discusses the WFMH initiative more:
The WFMH and six other patient advocacy groups recently collaborated on a publishing initiative for journalists titled “The Lexicon: International Media guide for Mental Health” with the help of an educational grant from AstraZeneca. “The Lexicon” has been designed in consultation with people with first-hand experience of mental illness as well as senior journalists, to help journalists promote responsible and accurate coverage of mental health issues and to give a balanced perspective. Journalists can consult “The Lexicon” when writing news stories involving a mentally disturbed person to select appropriate terminology and to write with sensitivity instead of opting for pejorative labels. It includes expert contact details, facts and statistics about mental illness, the correct definition of much misused terms like “schizophrenic” and “split personality”, and gives examples of good and bad reporting.
Discussing “The Lexicon” at a recent AstraZeneca media event, WFMH immediate past president Dr Patt Franciosi said: “It shows journalists how to replace words that hurt with words that could help”. Instead of terms no better than playground insults such as “nutter”, “psycho”, “schizo” and “sicko”, The Lexicon suggests instead using the person’s correct diagnosis or a term such as “disturbed” which does not carry condemnation. Before publishing a story involving a mentally ill person, Dr Franciosi suggests journalists should ask themselves if mentioning a diagnostic label is relevant. She advises. “Read it through and ask yourself – is this offensive? If it involved a relative of yours, would you want someone to say that about them?” The Lexicon is available from the website www.forum4mentalhealth.com/lexicon.