Fiction Can Combat Mental Health Stigma

April 8, 2019 Laura A. Barton

Fiction can combat mental health stigma by giving us an inside look at how mental illness can start. Learn more about how fiction combats mental health stigma at HealthyPlace.

Pointing out the things that contribute to stigma is sometimes easy fodder in a world where mental health is still so greatly misunderstood. Recently, I wrote how fiction can contribute to mental health stigma. Now I want to highlight ways in which fiction can combat mental health stigma.

Ways Fiction Combats Mental Health Stigma

Fiction Helps Us Explore Grief

Like with my blog about fiction contributing to stigma, this one was inspired by something I just finished watching: After Life. The show stars and was produced and directed by actor Ricky Gervais and invites us into the life of a man who is grieving the loss of his wife.

I think each of us has an idea of grief, at least as a concept. It's a deep feeling of loss and sadness, usually brought on by the death of a loved one. We may even picture coping with it as crying for a time and eventually being able to move on. But what about those times when the grief is so deep that you can't seem to shake it? What happens when that emptiness and grief becomes a mental health issue and begins to change who you are? ("When Grief Becomes a Mental Health Issue")

That's what After Life explores. Through a mix of raw portrayal of emotion and a dash of black humour, Gervais does an excellent job of portraying the uglier side of grief, the consequences of it, and how those around us can contribute to our healing or hurting. It's refreshing and relatable in so many ways.

How the Story Is Told Makes a Difference in Portraying Mental Health

I think the key to After Life's poignant approach to mental health and grief is telling the story through the lens of Gervais' character. When we're looking at grief from the outside in, it's difficult to understand why a person is behaving the way they are or their thought processes ("Three Things We Need to Understand About Grief"). This often leads to stigma.

With this show, we get those raw emotions I was mentioning and a clear sense of how negatively the wife's death has affected the main character. It gives us the opportunity to empathize with him instead of seeing him as someone acting out who just can't get over it. It gives us an idea of the complexity of what happens in these situations.

It's no secret that I love and encourage honest conversations about these issues. Watch the video below to learn how I see fiction as a way to combat mental health stigma by showing how we might empathize with someone suffering.

I'm sure this show isn't the only work of fiction that offers a solid portrayal of people struggling with mental health. It can be difficult to get it right without glamorizing or stigmatizing these issues, but when they do get it right, it's brilliant to see. As an added bonus, it makes a positive contribution toward combatting mental health stigma.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2019, April 8). Fiction Can Combat Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 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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