Style Guidance home

Mental Health, Trauma, and Substance Use

neurodivergent

Neurodivergent is an umbrella term to refer to neurological minorities, including people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, Tourette’s syndrome, and tics. The opposite term is “neurotypical.” Equating neurotypicality to being “normal” or having a “healthy” brain can reinforce misleading assumptions and stigma about neurodivergence.

neurodiversity

Neurodiversity refers to the presence of many different types of minds throughout the human race, all of which have valuable characteristics. The term aims to categorize autism, ADHD, and other developmental conditions as naturally occurring traits in the human population rather than pathologies to be “cured.” A group or population can be neurodiverse, but a single person cannot, and the term generally isn’t used in a person-first way (e.g., “a person with neurodiversity”). An individual could be referred to as a neurominority or neurologically marginalized, or described with their diagnosis; some also call themselves “neurodivergent.”

obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by persistent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive rituals to “neutralize” said thoughts (compulsions). Using OCD as a casual shorthand outside of the context of the actual disorder and its diagnosis can increase stigma around the condition, trivialize the experiences of people living with OCD, and discourage people from getting help.

opioid epidemic

Language, Please is a living resource that will be regularly updated. We’re working hard on an entry for this topic — please check back in soon.

perpetrator

In the context of abuse, the term “perpetrator” refers to someone who misuses their power over another individual to hurt or control them. Some advocacy organizations urge the use of person-first language (e.g., person who abuses), as calling someone an “abuser” can conflate their identity with their behavior. Individuals can be both abuse perpetrators and victims at different points, so consider whether the phrasing could be read as assigning a seemingly permanent, binary role.

psychedelics

Language, Please is a living resource that will be regularly updated. We’re working hard on an entry for this topic — please check back in soon.

psychiatric medications

Psychiatric medications are prescribed to shift emotions and thought patterns by adjusting brain chemistry in people with mental health conditions. They are also called mental health medications or psychotropic medications. Clinicians will often combine these medications with psychotherapy and other treatments for maximum effectiveness in relieving symptoms including anxiety and depression. Common myths related to psychiatric medications include that they are a “cop-out” or short-term solution, that they dull one’s personality, or that they are no more effective than placebos. Citing statistics that put individual stories of medication use in context, and bringing in an expert for analysis, can go a long way to ensure thoughtful coverage.

psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is the process of working with a professional provider to address behaviors, beliefs, emotions, relationship issues, and/or somatic responses that are causing distress. Psychotherapists treat a range of conditions and use diverse methods, each with its own defining techniques and suitability for treating specific diagnoses. Reporting that implies all a person needs to do to treat a mental health condition is to, for instance, take daily walks or deep breaths is both inaccurate and can stigmatize help-seeking via professional psychotherapy.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

PTSD is a mental health condition caused by trauma. It can have profound effects on memory, mood, social relationships, and daily functioning. People will sometimes use the term PTSD when they are joking about distress (e.g., “That movie gave me PTSD”). Doing so can blur the boundary between everyday experiences of discomfort and the serious mental health condition of PTSD.

rape

Rape is a type of sexual assault involving penetration of an orifice without explicit consent. When reporting on rape, terms like “successful” or “unsuccessful” are misleading. Rape and sexual assault can present unique challenges for reporters covering them: There is often a lack of physical evidence and witnesses, and victims often do not come forward immediately, or ever. In the absence of witness statements or court documents, careful reporting and fact-checking can help identify areas that need clarification and forestall surprise criticisms.

Last updated 08/05/22

Mental health can be hard to talk about for people in their everyday lives, so it’s not surprising that reporting on the issue comes with its own challenges. Until relatively recently, in many circles, discussion of mental health issues was considered taboo, and terms that refer to clinical diagnoses were often used in flippant ways to describe perceptions of traits rather than actual medical conditions. Though we’ve come a long way, there’s plenty of evidence that stereotypes and myths related to mental health issues have stubbornly clung to the public consciousness. 

This section of the Language, Please style guidance helps journalists recognize and avoid those stereotypes and other common pitfalls in reporting and to understand key mental health subjects in a nuanced way.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will update and expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

Get in Touch

Language, Please is a living resource and will be updated regularly. Have a question, suggestion, or addition? We’d love to hear from you.

Find an Inclusivity Reader

Access our inclusivity reader directory here.