Demonizing Teachers & Mental Health over a 0.099% statistic

The title uses schismatic language to grasp readers and further entrench stigma around mental health


A Fairfax journalist has, in a single article, overtly demonized our hardworking kiwi teachers as well as further stigmatising kiwis with mental health concerns.

The piece (Nearly 100 mentally-ill teachers investigated by the Education Council in the past six years’) published on Stuff yesterday late afternoon, used information gained through the OIA to weave together a story that was as vilifying towards mental health and teachers as Donald Trump’s recent anti-Muslim tirades. The article even offered a ‘four step’ guide to keeping kids safe.

Three linguistic narratives, amongst many, show not only the poor quality of investigative journalism but also the social danger of repeating schismatic stereotypes as if they were gospel.

The misuse or perhaps the abuse of labels is the first narrative that calls the ethical and professional conduct of the Stuff journalist into account. Everything is crudely thrown under the dehumanizing banner of ‘mentally-ill.’ In a broad brush stroke the writer smears people with depression, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, AOD, and Asperger’s syndrome. I’m not sure if it is common journalistic knowledge but Asperger’s is part of the Autism spectrum, it is not a mental disorder.

The danger with using knee-jerk stereotypes like ‘mentally-ill’ to negatively brand people, those with and without mental health related concerns, should be evident. Discriminatory language increases mental health stigma as well as discouraging the normalisation, not to mention the self-disclosure, of anxiety and/or depression.

The second theme in the analysed article is the disgracing of teachers with mental health issues, not to mention public teachers in general. Indeed the farfetched correlation between the, already loaded, term ‘mentally-ill’ and teacher safety is a clear beat-up. Using the same statistic calculations as the writer, only 0.099% of the more than 100,000 registered teachers were investigated – about 16 per year since 2009.

99 teachers over the last 6 years is not a statistic to be propagating like a doomsday herald. It should be a sign that, under the increasing budget cuts to the public education sector, a majority of our kiwi teachers are championing on with mana.

So after demonizing mental health, New Zealand teachers, and more specifically teachers with everything that the writer classified as being ‘mentally-ill’, what could Stuff do?

Well for a starter, the writer could update his article to offer an apology and the Stuff editor could relay what journalistic responsibility and ethical practice looks like.

Another point of action would be to change the whole language tone of the article to:

  1. Investigate the wider meso-macro variables that contribute to teacher stress levels and work-induced mental health concerns. Maybe investigating the Ministry of Education’s bureaucracy nightmares as well as funding allocation could be a starting reference;
  2. Correlate this with a deeper look into the social influences of mental health in New Zealand;
  3. Normalize the experiences of people with mental health issues; and
  4. Congratulate kiwi teachers in doing a great job, period.

Contrary to what some may think, this piece was not a crusade against Stuff, FairFax, or the writer of the analysed article. Rather, this is the result of someone with depression (that would be me) who felt further demonized about living with mental health concerns.

The thing I want to get across is that I am a normal functioning kiwi, as too are most people with depression and anxiety.

The standards of being a professional, ethical, and responsible journalist should be a framework not an ad hoc guideline whenever one feels compelled.

Using a 0.099% statistic to demonize teachers and mental health is more than irresponsible or lazy, it is unprincipled.


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