Responses to Mental Health Stories Can Be Shaped by Stigma

November 4, 2019 Laura A. Barton

We might not think about it explicitly, but responses to mental health stories can be shaped by stigma. It can be easy to read through posts online or hear someone speak about his or her mental health experiences and question the validity of them. In particular, in a day and age where people can present themselves as anything online, questioning can be good. But, it's important to consider how stigma may be shaping our responses to mental health stories.

People Might Not Believe Mental Health Stories 

Not Everyone Can Be Telling the Truth: Stigma Says Mental Illnesses Are Rare

One fundamental piece of stigma says mental illnesses are rare. If we are to believe this, it makes sense to question every mental health story we come across. It seems like our world is too saturated by people coming forward with their mental illness struggles for every single one of them to be true.

When people respond to mental health stories in this way, I think it's stigma fostering that doubt. This idea of rarity, however, is false when we look at statistics. One in five people experiences mental illness, which is anything but rare.1,2 The way I see it, the idea of rarity was likely formed on the back of other types of stigma keeping people silent. When fewer people talk about something, it doesn't seem to exist as prominently. But now people are beginning to speak out, which is challenging this notion.

Mental Health Stories Challenge What Mental Illness 'Looks Like'

Mental Illness Doesn't Look Like That: Stigma Says Mental Health Is a Boxed Idea

Another piece of stigma that shapes how we respond to mental health stories is the idea that mental illness fits into a box. Whether that box is shaped like a diagnostic definition or stigma's misconceptions, people seem to want to package mental illness to look a certain way and have trouble understanding it when it doesn't.

When someone shares his or her mental health story and it doesn't look one of those ways, it causes people to raise eyebrows. Certainly, this person can't actually be experiencing a mental illness, stigma shapes the thought. But, again, thinking that mental illness needs to look a certain way in order to be true is a false notion. Mental illness manifests and affects people in many different ways ("You Don't Look Like Someone with a Mental Illness").

Discard Stigma to Reshape How You Perceive Mental Health Stories

There are many more ways in which stigma probably outwits us and shapes how we respond to mental health stories and the people who share them. What's key is recognizing that stigma could be playing a role in shaping our responses. This is especially true online.

Keep in mind that when someone shares a mental health story, we're only being given a window into a fraction of lived experience. It can be hard to put life into words, and this is no less true for trying to communicate how something like mental illness impacts us.

Knowing this, let's challenge and discard stigma so we can reshape the way we perceive and respond to people sharing their mental health stories with us. That way, we can become better supporters of each other.


  1. "Mental Illness." National Institute of Mental Health, February 2019.
  2. "Fast Facts about Mental Illness." Canadian Mental Health Association, Accessed November 15, 2019.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2019, November 4). Responses to Mental Health Stories Can Be Shaped by Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Follow her writing journey and book love on Instagram, and Goodreads.

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