Please note, you can also download the guidelines as a PDF here: CALIA Media Guidelines.
The media holds a great deal of power and can influence people’s opinions on a wide range of issues. In relation to mental illness, it holds the power to reduce or increase stigma and discrimination, empower people to seek help or stop them from seeking it, and can educate people about mental illness or perpetuate the myth that those with severe mental illness are dangerous.
It’s important that media organisations and journalists provide reports that are whole, accurate, balanced and empowering. Covering stories well can increase the amount of understanding and compassion given to someone living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
This guide sets out some guidelines for media organisations to follow when reporting on BPD. It aims to complement guides produced by other organisations on other aspects of mental health (see resources list at the end of the guide). The guide was produced by CALIA, and is based on the experiences of people living with Borderline Personality Disorder.
The Press Complaints Commission – Code of Practice
It is vital when reporting on BPD to follow the Press Complaints Commission code of practice, in particular with reference to the following:
- The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
- The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
- Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Why Guidelines are Needed when Reporting on Borderline Personality Disorder
Media reporting on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can have a huge influence on the stigma attached to the condition, and to public attitudes towards BPD and mental health in general.
The media can be a key source of information about mental illness but often chooses to focus on particular aspects such as instability or violence. In reality, BPD patients are no more of a danger to the public than anyone else, and are more prone to self-harm than external violence.
Borderline Personality Disorder is highly stigmatised, and often misunderstood or confused with other conditions such as Bipolar, Schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder.
BPD is treatable. While there is no cure for BPD, with proper treatment (which involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy), a supportive network and guidance on wellbeing, people with BPD can live perfectly normal lives.
There is no single cause of BPD. The causes of BPD are complex and involve differing aspects of genetic, neurological, behavioural, social and environmental factors. BPD cannot be attributed to any single cause.
Different people have different symptoms. BPD is a diverse illness, and people with the same diagnosis can have differing symptoms, or symptoms in varying severity or frequency.
BPD is much less common than other conditions. While 1 in 3 people with suffer from mental health conditions in their lifetime, less than 2% of the population suffer from BPD.
People with BPD are no more dangerous than anyone else. Due to emotional instability and distorted self-view, people with BPD are far more likely to hurt themselves than others. Studies have shown that up to 70% of people with BPD will self-harm, and 10% of all BPD patients attempt, or die by, suicide. This suicide rate is higher than any other psychiatric disorder.
Provide appropriate warnings
Please consider adding a warning before any report that advises the viewer/reader that the following content may be distressing. Include signposting at the start and end of such content.
Many people with BPD also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex PTSD and may be affected by distressing articles or imagery.
Consider the impact of your work
When producing any form of media, please consider the impact of the media on people with mental illness, and BPD in particular. You may wish to consider the impact of your work while considering someone you know.
You should be aware that any inaccurate or sensational reporting of BPD and severe mental illness can have negative implications for those with severe mental illness and their families/loved ones.
These implications may include reluctance to seek treatment, lowered self-esteem and increased discrimination or stigma.
Referring to the condition of a person when reporting a crime that has been committed has a negative impact on others with the same diagnosis or their families/loved ones. Again, this can manifest in a reluctance for people to see the help they need, or increased discrimination against them.
Reports about health services which are negative might discourage people from seeking the help they need. While reporting on these issues, ensure that all aspects of the situation are reported, so as to give an accurate and fair account.
You should ensure that any interviewees who have lived experience are comfortable, well, and have a support system in place. Discussing their mental health may have an adverse effect, and they must have appropriate support after the interview.
Use appropriate language
The language used in the media can cause further discrimination and stigma of the condition, as well as affect the person living with BPD, in terms of how they see themselves.
Inappropriate use of language can be damaging. Use language that promotes compassion and inclusivity, and that reduces stigma and discrimination.
Avoid using language that:
- Sensationalises severe mental illness – words such as ‘mad’, deranged’, crazed’, ‘mental patient’, etc.;
- Applies a label to the person by their diagnosis – such as stating a person is ‘psychotic’;
- Uses common slang words such as ‘mental institution’, ‘happy pills’ etc.;
- Terminology that describes mental health services appropriately. For example, report that someone was ‘admitted’ to hospital rather than ‘committed’. Patients are ‘discharged’ rather than ‘released’.
- Language that ensures the person is first, rather than the condition. Report that someone is ‘a person with borderline personality disorder’, rather than ‘borderline’.
Report accurately and in context
When reporting on severe mental illness, you should avoid:
- Inferring that the cause of a crime committed was mental illness;
- Portraying severe mental illness as being something nobody can recover from, or that they will suffer forever;
- Speculating that someone ‘may have’ mental illness;
- Implying that people with severe mental illness are violent or dangerous;
- Reporting a mental illness label on someone because their actions were shocking;
- Avoid attributing mental illness-related violence to a single cause;
- Making generalisations about people living with severe mental illness – for example, all people with severe mental illness are incapable of working.
You should ensure that you:
- Seek interviews with both experts and with people who have lived experience, to provide a fair, balanced viewpoint;
- Ensure cultural differences are considered when reporting, and seek expert cultural opinions where possible;
- Use authoritative sources such as mental health professionals and official records;
- Seek accurate background information from qualified mental health professionals;
- Ensure it is understood that not everybody will have the same experience of severe mental illness as those featured in your report;
- Do not assume that all actions, or emotions displayed, by the person are as a result of their illness;
- Only report on severe mental illness where it is relevant to the report.
Use appropriate imagery
When reporting on severe mental illness, you should avoid using:
- Images depicting violence (such as weapons or blood);
- Stills or clips from movies portraying negative aspects of mental health (such as The Shining or Psycho, for example);
- Negative imagery, such as people sitting in the dark, people looking distressed, clutching their head etc;
- Images of hospital wards or hospital patients;
- Images of pills or medications;
- Images of distressing scenes;
- Images with stigmatising text, such as ‘psychotic’ or ‘maniac’.
Before using images or videos, consider whether they are essential to the story, and whether they are appropriate.
Provide signposting to relevant organisations, and encourage people to seek help
Providing signposting to anyone affected by the content of media is vital.
Providing links to appropriate support services such as helplines, charities or websites allows people to seek the support they need.
We recommend that at least 2 sources of support are provided for people. We have provided details of some useful resources at the end of this guide.
We also recommend including official sources of mental illness information such as NHS, NICE, etc.
Responsible social media usage
When using social media, you should:
- Monitor comments for unsafe, discriminatory or hateful comments;
- Report any comments which are dangerous or encourage dangerous behaviour;
- Share helpline numbers of links to support services;
- Avoid liking or sharing news stories that don’t follow these guidelines or the reporting guidelines such as the Press Complaints Commission guidelines.
- Avoid liking or sharing comments which imply that severe mental illness and violence are linked.
- NHS: Borderline Personality Disorder
- NHS: Urgent Mental Health Helplines
- NICE: Overview of Borderline Personality Disorder
- Mind: How to Report on Mental Health
- Mind: How to Report on Violence
- Time to Change: Reporting Mental Health in the News
- Time to Change: Reporting on Mental Health-related storylines in soaps and dramas
- Samaritans: Reporting Suicide
- Anxiety UK: 03444 775 774 www.anxietyuk.org.uk
- CALM: 0800 58 58 58 www.thecalmzone.net
- Mental Health Foundation: www.mentalhealth.org.uk
- Mind: 0300 123 3393 www.mind.org.uk
- No Panic: 0300 772 9844 www.nopanic.org.uk
- Papyrus: 0800 068 4141 www.papyrus-uk.org
- Rethink Mental Illness: 0300 5000 927
- Samaritans: 116 123 www.samaritans.org.uk
- SANE: www.sane.org.uk