Journalists get some pointers on covering mental health issues

The Bay Area chapter of AHCJ hosted a workshop at the San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 17.

Melissa McCoy

Melissa McCoy

Melissa McCoy, a media consultant to the Team Up project and former deputy managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, walked members through best practices and examples of what to do – and not to do – when covering mental health issues.

“We only talk about mental health when there’s a crisis,” McCoy said, “but people with mental illnesses are responsible for only 5 percent of violent acts.” In fact, she added, they are more apt to be the victims of crimes. McCoy showed reporters how they can be sensitive to word choice (don’t use words like “crazy” and “bizarre behavior”), cultural sensitivities (mental health is not perceived the same way in various cultures), and how to downplay the stigma that pervades this issue in the media.

Katherine Kam

Katherine Kam

Health journalist Katherine Kam followed McCoy’s workshop. She recently completed a Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, and talked about her fellowship project, a series of articles on depression and suicide in Asian youths:

She also described her work at a suicide hotline and how that helped her better understand mental health issues.

The event closed with a question and answer session.

Leave a Reply