If You’re Reporting On A Mental Health Story, Remember These 6 Points

Mental health is hard to write about. There are so many emotions involved that you often don’t know where to start, what to say and how much to reveal. But you really want to write and let it all out, and that’s enough reason why you shouldn’t shy away from talking about it.

As difficult and as widely misunderstood mental health issues are, it is all the more important to talk about them. However, with talking about mental health, comes a certain level of responsibility. With your writing, not only are you expressing yourself, but are also providing an insight to others and adding to their knowledge of mental health issues.

You must not only aim to inform, but must aim to write something that could help other people come out with the difficulties they face. That’s the only way we can clear the stigma that surrounds mental health.

All of this may sound overwhelming, but we’re here to help you with how you can go about it.

If You Want To Tell Your Own Story

1. Relax, You Don’t Have To Be The Best Writer

Your feelings and experiences are important, and they need to be heard. You don’t need to be a great writer to tell your story. Talking about a harrowing experience is extremely difficult. The power of your story can give someone else the strength to tell their own or fight their illness. And, that’s how we can all work towards destigmatizing mental health. Won’t that be a great thing?

2. How To Begin?

Everyone has different experiences when it comes to personal stories. So to begin, think (but not overthink) about the one thing that you believe to be the most powerful in your experience and write it down.

3. How Much Of Myself Do I Reveal?

The answer to this is simple. Reveal as much as you feel comfortable. You don’t need to describe every single detail if you don’t want to. It is your story, after all.

Revisit the story to make sure that:

  1. The series of events described are in a particular order that would be easily followed by a reader who doesn’t know you.
  2. You’re sharing only information you are comfortable with.
  3. You’ve clearly explained your mental illness and its identity markers.

4. How Do I End The Story?

Talk about your takeaways from this experience. Share what helped you, your learnings and maybe a message for those who might be in the same situation as you.

If You’re Reporting On A Mental Health Story

1. Be Sensitive

The words we use are important. As we know, there is already a lot of stigma attached to mental health. Do not use words like ‘crazy’, ‘deranged’, ‘mad’, ‘lunatic’, etc. These words reinforce the stereotypes that come with mental health issues and are disparaging.

It’s also not fair to use diagnosable mental health conditions in casual conversations because these illnesses are real and people live with them. Using these words in a nonclinical sense dilutes the reality that each of these conditions holds. Therefore, using statements like “I feel bipolar today” or “I am very OCD about where my things are supposed to be” are insensitive and we must avoid them. What can be used instead is – “I feel moody today”, and “I am very particular about where my things are supposed to be”.

Another thing to keep in mind is – A person is never their mental illness so we shouldn’t describe them in a way that it seems like that. Saying “she is a depressed person” is like saying that being depressed is the person’s existence. The better way to put it is by saying, “she is living with depression”. This sentence portrays that depression is a part of her life and not a description of who she is.

2. When Reporting On Suicide, Avoid The Details And The Method

The way we cover news can have a huge impact on people who are vulnerable. According to this recommendation on reporting about suicide, more than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. And add trigger warnings.

3. Being Queer Is Not A Mental Illness

You simply can’t equate a person’s identity or sexuality to mental illness, just because they don’t fit into the boxes of our heteronormative society. In fact, it is intolerance and discrimination that may lead people from the LGBTQ+ community (just the way it may lead anyone) to experience certain mental health disorders.

4. Do Your Research

Sometimes, while trying to write about mental health, we may confuse two different mental illnesses to be the same. Not only is this incorrect, but also dilutes the problems that each illness brings. For instance, one may think that Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are the same. However, that is not true and each condition has its own distinguishing factors which must be kept in mind at all times. Therefore, don’t forget to do your research and back it up with reliable sources and studies. While most of us are not mental health professionals, but we need to be very careful with what we say, because with choosing to write about mental health, we are entering a territory where we must not be wrong with our facts at all!

5. If You’re Not A Professional, Don’t Tell People What To Do

Don’t try to give advice/therapy if you’re not an expert. Don’t tell people to just fight on and think happy thoughts. While the intent is good, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Just like physical illness, mental illness also requires expert advice and treatment. You wouldn’t tell someone with a bleeding abdomen how to fix it, would you?

Stress on the importance of seeking professional health – sometimes people are able to deal with their illness, but many times, they can’t. And that’s when professional help becomes necessary. Along with stressing on the importance of professional help, what you must also focus on is the fact that it’s okay to get help. A lot of times, people know that they need professional help to deal with a mental illness, what makes them not do it, is the stigma attached to it.

6. But, You Can Always Let Them Know Where To Get Help

Many times, certain content can be triggering to people. When we’re dealing with something super sensitive like mental health, we must remember that a lot of times, people with certain mental health conditions may also read our stories. So, here, it becomes essential to include helplines or places that could provide help.

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