You don’t have to be a therapist to know mental health is a hot topic right now. And for good reason.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has undermined many aspects of our well-being, including mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the percentage of adults experiencing recent anxiety or depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5% during Aug. 2020-Feb. 2021.
At the same time, many communities are facing a shortage of mental health professionals. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 workforce survey, 65% of psychologists have no capacity for new patients.
When the need is high and therapists are busy and burnt out, how can you create trustworthy mental health content? What’s appropriate to say? What should you avoid? Whether you’re writing blogs, creating videos or posting to social media, read on for some do’s and don’ts to guide you when writing about mental health.
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Writing about mental health: The do’s
If your editorial calendar planning includes mental health content, you’re already on the right path to building positive mental health awareness. Here are some recommendations for writing about mental health in a trustworthy, clinically accurate and positive way.
Do start with a goal for your mental health content
Before putting pen to paper (or more likely fingertips to keyboard), start by outlining the purpose of your piece. If your goal is to have readers identify with someone’s experience and seek help, consider telling a patient story. And if you want to educate about symptoms and dispel stigmas, you could create blogs, infographics or physician interviews that focus on a specific mental health condition. By starting with a purpose, you’ll know when the content veers away from your goal and may need editing or a new approach to stay focused.
Do use credible sources
As mental health professionals’ workloads and waitlists increase, they have less time to serve as your subject matter experts. Even if they have the time, many are burnt out as the demand for their skills grows.
You can create clinically accurate content by starting with credible sources. As you know, our favorite search engines don’t rank results based on credibility. So, you’ll have to be discerning.
Professional organizations often lead the charge in creating awareness and conducting research in their area of focus. Start with this list of national mental health organizations from the American Hospital Association or find equivalent groups for your country. You can also consider recent peer-reviewed research, which you can find through article databases such as PubMed, JSTOR or EBSCO.
Do include details on how to get in touch with professional help
Even when you use good sources, your mental health posts are never a substitute for medical advice. While mental health content provides general information, every person with mental health issues is unique and needs individualized care. Always include resources for people who want to seek out mental health help, whether that is contact information for a professional or instructions on what to do in a certain scenario.
Writing about mental health: The don’ts
As we continue to build greater mental health awareness in our communities, we want to inform not offend. The Mental Health Foundation found that people with mental health issues face discrimination, making it difficult to find work, maintain long-term relationships, live in decent housing and be socially active.
Words are powerful tools. They can help dismantle mental health stigmas that affect people’s well-being. Here are some ways you can avoid perpetuating harmful mental health stereotypes in your content.
Don’t limit people’s identities to their mental health
People are not their diseases. For example, instead of saying “she is obsessive-compulsive,” use “she has obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Likewise, instead of saying “the mentally ill,” refocus to “people with mental illness.”
Don’t turn people into victims
Mental health content should create awareness, not pity. If you use words like “suffers from,” “victim of” and “battling,” you suggest that people with mental illness are victims. Instead, keep it neutral and clinically accurate by focusing on the facts: “he has schizophrenia.”
Don’t use derogatory phrases
Words like “crazy” and “insane” may still find their way into the common vernacular, but they have no place in your mental health content. They are derogatory terms about mental health that you should avoid in all your content, not just mental health posts.
These do’s and don’ts can guide you to create thoughtful mental health content for even the trickiest of topics. By starting with the essential elements — a defined goal, solid sources and directions for help — and avoiding harmful language, you can write with confidence.