As it emerges that the suspect of the tragic incident in Reading may have experienced mental health problems, the heads of Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Time to Change are calling on the media to remember the power they hold to shape public attitudes around mental health problems and consider their use of language carefully.
We appreciate that sources have come forward detailing the suspect's apparent history of mental illness, and that it is the media’s job to report findings as they come in. However, as they unpick this complex incident to explore motivations and reason, we ask they avoid stigmatising language and speculation.
Living with a mental health problem is hard and the shame and isolation that often comes with it, makes it even harder. Sensational headlines and overly simplistic links between violence and mental health problems, (“knife wielding-maniac”) can cause real harm. They fuel outdated misconceptions that those of us affected are to be feared. These stereotypes prevent people from seeking help (which can delay treatment and impair recovery) and make it difficult to build new relationships or sustain current ones. They can also stop people getting or keeping jobs. When suicide is still a leading cause of death for certain groups in society, anything that increases feelings of isolation - especially in these challenging times - and discourages people from seeking help is potentially very dangerous.
We ask that the media cover mental health in a sensitive and balanced manner. The reality is that people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Most live ‘normal’ lives – they are our colleagues, our friends and our family.
Actions to take:
- Avoid offensive language such as ‘maniac.’ These words are highly stigmatising and have no place in today’s society.
- Avoid speculation about potential links between violence and mental health problems.
- When writing about mental health in relation to a violent crime, include contextualising information, such as the fact that the vast majority of people living with a mental health problem will never present a risk to others (see links below).
- Refer to our responsible reporting resources.
- Help us to curtail the use of stigmatising language by circulating our list of insensitive terms to avoid and alternative suggestions with your colleagues.
- Signpost readers to websites where they can find out more about the mental health problems mentioned in the report.
We welcome journalists getting in touch to find out more about how we can work together to reduce mental health stigma and put a stop to discrimination.
Jo Loughran, Director of Time to Change
Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive of Mind
Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness