How to Respond to Stigmatizing Feedback About Mental Illness

April 15, 2013 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Being mentally ill opens you up to a lot of stigmatizing feedback about your mental illness. Learn four ways to respond to stigmatizing feedback to use today.

It would be interesting if we took a few minutes to recall the stigmatizing feedback we've received about our mental illness. Together, we could compile a book of stupid mental health comments that rivals the dictionary in length. But that would take a lot of time and, frankly, might irritate us. So, in light of that, let's focus on some common stigmatizing feedback we might receive about mental illness and how we can respond to it.

Examples of Stigmatizing Feedback About Mental Illness

It's difficult to feel comfortable sharing our mental health diagnosis with people--harder still to trust they will be empathetic and remember that you, we, are not just an illness.

Example A:

You have recently been diagnosed with a mental illness and want--feel the need--to share this information with those you love and trust. Sharing our diagnosis is one of the hardest things we have to do in the beginning. It's scary. We are probably acutely aware of the stigma attached to mental illness, but when you reach out and are met with negativity, you probably question whether you should share at all.

Comments like, "Well, that explains it, doesn't it?" or "So, does that mean you're crazy?" And this one is my least favorite: "Well, thanks for sharing with me, but I'm not sure I'm ready to be part of this." That one is often received when starting a new relationship and nothing, in my experience, puts the flame out faster.

Example B:

You have a great new job but need to tell your supervisor about your mental illness. Despite it being completely unethical, and even illegal, we might be met with the following comments: "Oh, well, do you think you can really handle this job?" or "Well, we're still interviewing people so we'll get back to you soon. Thanks." This often said once a person is fairly certain they have the position. Mental health stigma is a real pain in the ass.

How can we respond to the negative, uninformed, stigmatizing feedback about our mental health?

Combat Mental Health Stigma with the Truth

The best way to fight stigmatizing feedback is to try to be positive. A contradiction? Perhaps, but give it a shot.

  1. Educate people. Education can clarify things in ways we cannot. Giving someone a book, a brochure, or even information from a trusted mental health website can help inform people. Knowledge is power.
  2. Analyze your relationships with people. This is something we need to do for ourselves and our personal journey through mental health recovery. Just take time and really think about who will be receptive to what is certainly difficult: Sharing personal parts of our lives. If a relationship is rocky to be begin with, ask yourself if it's worth it to pursue.
  3. Understand that we cannot enlighten everyone in our lives. Changing everyone's mind would take over our life entirely, but we can take time to talk to important people--to explain that we are not suddenly alien to them and to the world. Dammit, we are still human!
  4. Use words to your advantage. If we are met with the previous comment, "Well, that explains it, doesn't it?" we might be honest and reply, "Yes, some of my behavior was due to my untreated illness, but most of it was not. I'm still me." Be human and be honest! People respect honesty and they respect humility as well.

In the end, you find out who your friends are and what jobs will receive you well. You can identify those who stick by your side and can recognize the ones you have yet to meet.

Now, I'm passing along the question to you: How do you respond to stigmatizing feedback about your mental illness?

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, April 15). How to Respond to Stigmatizing Feedback About Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Kathleen Brannon
April, 16 2013 at 9:23 am

thank you for this! I tend to internalize all of these negative comments people make and never really deal with how angry they make me -- because I have a hard time accepting my anger no matter how justified.
So I started a blog to post "the worst things you've heard" from people about your mental illness (mostly bipolar because that's what I have). It is aimed at "getting it off your chest and out of your head." It has helped me personally so much! When I "tell" it I realize how awful the comments were and that I have every right to be angry. Other people post theirs too, and it has started a healthy conversation about stigma, ignorance and our own anger. Writing things down always helps, and sharing them with others who've had their own to deal with helps even more. So that's something that might help people see these remarks for what they are and "move on."

Sandra L. Flaada
April, 16 2013 at 5:21 pm

I told my good friend while crying my eyes out. She said, "Why bring it up now?" Haven't talked to her since. My sister said, "I can't go there." I became a Lutheran and she "doesn't want to go there either."

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