Journalists, have you ever wondered what it’s like to have a child that is different?
Have you ever wondered how that child’s parents feel when they discover that their child is unable to walk, to hear or to see?
Have you ever wondered how they feel if Autism or Asperger’s is the diagnosis?
Well, as parents of three wonderful, healthy children, neither my husband nor I thought that way. Then, our son became ill and we heard words like paranoid schizophrenia which we barely knew how to spell. We never dreamed that we would … that we could produce a defective child: not in our family: oh no! Well, our nightmare had begun. It was worse for our son than for us of course, but our whole family was involved.
Mr/Mr. Journalist, before you write your next newspaper article or report on television, please think of me as well as the millions of people around the world like me, who are dealing with a mental illness and are simply trying to survive each day.
Your duty is to provide a fair and comprehensive account of events. You of all people recognize the power of words and the images used to define and characterize a subject. There are no definite guidelines when your report about someone with a mental illness so it can be problematic. If mental illness is important to a story, you may not assume that an illogical act of violence is the result of mental illness in general. The statement that a crime was committed by a person with a history of mental illness is often made on-scene by a first responder who might not even have direct knowledge of the person’s history. So, even if accurate, it may be irrelevant to the incident. Mental illness is not a defining characteristic of the ‘so-called criminal.’
It’s advisable to avoid descriptions of an individual’s behavior that might contribute to the impression that all people with that particular illness exhibit similar behavior. A term like He was a schizophrenic in a rage, creates the impression that rages are common behavior for those experiencing schizophrenia AND, why use the term schizophrenic? Do you use the term cancerous? It takes away the person’s dignity and turns them into an illness.
But Mr. Journalist, how about giving the impression that mental illness is treatable and that people can recover – maybe not 100%, but sufficiently to join the workforce and lead lives like the rest of us? Now that would be a welcome change and would make a huge difference in the lives of those affected by this ravaging illness.
For every negative story about mental illness with violence, there are so many positive ones that can be written about people in recovery who serve valuable roles in their communities. Reporters could write compelling personal stories about people who have recovered, as there are many who have lived through and survived a mental illness and who might be prepared to be interviewed and serve as an example to the general population.
Please stop giving the public a distorted view of the facts. Stop to think how you would feel if you were unfortunate enough to have a son or a daughter with one of the mental illnesses that you describe this way.