My Response to the Stigmatizing Remarks of Brian Williams of NBC

August 4, 2013

I recently learned of the remarks made by Brian Williams of NBC News.  He announced that Ariel Castro, the Cleveland kidnapper/rapist who held three women captive for a decade, was “arguably the face of mental illness.”  Even if Castro is a “monster”, Brian Williams statements clearly violate the AP Stylebook’s entry on mental illness and add to the stigma often associated with diagnosed mental illness.

In my opinion, it appears that Mr. Williams specifically violated the following Associated Press Stylebook statements related to mental health reporting:

Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.” 

Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.” 

“Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.”

It is difficult to make progress in overcoming the stigma of mental illness when prominent individuals (including Dr. Phil) and news media are inaccurately reporting on mental illness or are using terminology that stereotypes individuals.   Many others have spoken out about the situation as well, including NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), an organization striving to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

Although the AP Stylebook entry on mental illness was not added until March of this year, it is progress.  I am grateful that the Associated Press addressed the topic of mental illness in the media as the media is highly influential and can either contribute to the stigma of mental illness or can help in educating and eliminating the stigma of mental illness.

As a Mental Health Advocate and Writer, I am going to continue my efforts in increasing the awareness and education of mental health issues.  Despite the challenges, strides have been made and will continue in overcoming the stigma and ignorance associated with mental illness.

If you are not already familiar with Brian Williams’ remarks as well as Dr. Phil’s, here is a link to the blog that I came across.

Resources and Links:

First Dr. Phil, Now NBC’s Brian Williams: Stigmatizing Mental Illness

The Media Versus the Mentally Ill

Entry on mental illness is added to AP Stylebook