What we heard: Mental Health Awareness Week reminds us of another way that words matter

The NNC receives complaints and queries from time to time about the appropriate use of language in news and opinion articles. Recent correspondence with a member of the public noted an issue with a particular headline and detailed concerns about how mental health issues were generally reported on in light of Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs until Saturday, October 12.

In the instance noted above, the news media organization took swift action to correct the headline and expressed regret for having made the error. This was a clear case where appropriate corrective action was taken to address the accidental use of inappropriate language.

Proportionate and prompt remedies are made in most cases where the accidental use of archaic or insensitive language makes its way into news reporting. That said, we understand the concerns surrounding the appropriate use of language and the call for news media organizations to take more proactive steps to avoid language that can perpetuate stigma or stereotypes that wrongly characterize the marginalized.

At the same time, we recognize it’s a tough job for newsrooms coping with evolving language and social norms, and it speaks well for Canadian journalism to see the number of newsrooms that are actively working to meet these challenges and adapt their practices accordingly.

There are a number of organizations that offer helpful guidelines and tips to newsrooms seeking to adapt their standards to reflect best practices on covering complex issues such as mental health. For example, a guidebook produced by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma provides journalists with best practices on how to report on mental health issues and how to handle a wide-array of often socially stigmatized subjects, such as suicide or addiction. We list this comprehensive manual on our resources page along with a variety of other resources in the hope that they may prove useful in navigating complex and emerging issues.

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, if there is a resource, set of guidelines, or news story that newsrooms or members of the public find particularly valuable, we invite you to draw our attention to it.

9 October 2019