Move Past Stereotypes - Mental Health

Top Storytelling Tips

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  1. Challenge common misconceptions
    1. Be mindful of stereotypes when depicting mental health storylines and aim for authenticity over tropes.

When telling the story of someone living with a mental health condition — especially conditions that are frequently misunderstood, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia — it’s important to remember that individuals living with those conditions may already be struggling with discrimination or judgment. 

Stereotypes can perpetuate harmful stigma and misconceptions in several ways. They can:

  • Perpetuate the false notion that people with mental health conditions are frightening, unhinged, or dangerous when in reality, individuals with these conditions are not more likely to be violent toward others. 
  • Celebrate potentially harmful archetypes, like the perception that artists always struggle emotionally or participate in negative behaviors like substance misuse. 
  • Reinforce barriers to help-seeking like portraying Black women as always being strong or Asian American students as always able to push through the pressure of school or work. 
  • Focus too heavily on one type of person in the context of specific mental health challenges, like only showing self-injury storylines with young, white females, when we know this behavior is prevalent across all gender and cultural groups. 
  • Typecast people with serious mental health conditions as unable to live a fulfilling and productive life, when advances in treatment have allowed many individuals with these conditions to have successful careers, relationships, and families.

When depicting mental health challenges or themes, avoid leaning into stereotypes and aim for authenticity over tropes:

  • Push back against common associations between certain mental health issues and character traits. For example, the false notion mentioned above that all artists or creative people struggle emotionally or partake in harmful behaviors like substance misuse. Focusing on stories of musicians, actors, or other creative people who die by suicide can reinforce and glamorize this connection — when in reality, there are many examples of artists who haven’t faced these challenges or have reached their peak after seeking help or entering recovery. 
  • A common storytelling tool is to present stereotypes or myths and then debunk them through the narrative. But studies show that a certain percentage of people will retain the myth instead of the truth when it’s presented in this format, especially if the myth is presented in a convincing way. If you’re using this storytelling tactic, consider consulting with a mental health advisor to decrease the likelihood that your narrative unintentionally reinforces the myth.

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more in part 6