Listening to mental health stories
Jo Kidd

Jo Kidd

Can real-life mental health stories help people?

For more than 15 years we’ve shared videos of people talking about their health stories on our website healthtalk.org. Our aim is to help other people with the same health problem. Our own surveys tell us that we certainly are helping people. We help them to feel reassured, better prepared for the future and above all, less alone. But researchers at Nottingham University decided to look more closely at how these stories affect other people.

The paper* by researchers on the NEON project points out that we often see people talking about their mental health in the media, particularly to raise general awareness. But can these stories help other people with mental illness? If so, what kinds of stories?

What makes a mental health story helpful?

Researchers collected hundreds of real stories about recovery from mental health conditions in video, audio and written form. We at the Dipex Charity were thrilled when the NEON team came to us to ask to include some of the mental health narratives from healthtalk.org in the study. They showed the stories to others living with mental health conditions and asked about how they felt about the stories.

The researchers are interested in how people connect with the stories. They wanted to see how this could lead to an outcome. The paper makes several observations about the kinds of stories that can indeed help people, including:

  • A story which talks about making progress in recovery can help people to feel more hopeful.
  • Some stories caused distress because they reminded people of difficult times.
  • It may be unhelpful if the stage of recovery described in the story is seen as far ahead of the person hearing it.
  • A range of different stories in a variety of formats may actually increase the chance of the person making a helpful connection.

Finally, the paper concludes that this work adds weight to the idea that recovery stories can help people with mental health problems.

Find out more about our work with patient stories.

*Ng et al (2019). The mechanisms and processes of connection: developing a causal chain model capturing impacts of receiving recorded mental health recovery narratives BMC Psychiatry 19:413

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