Projects / Challenging Stigma

Challenging Stigma Through Storytelling

How might we amplify the voices of people with lived experience of mental health, substance use, and the criminal justice system to reduce stigma and improve current services?

People with lived and living experience of concurrent mental health and substance use, and criminal justice involvement, are often misunderstood and heavily stigmatized, creating barriers to care in community and healthcare settings. To bring awareness and reduce stigma, BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS) partnered with the Health Design Lab at Emily Carr University on a storytelling initiative. This initiative is part of BCMHSUS’s multi-year Understanding Each Other Together (UNITE) Project, through which they aim to disrupt social and structural stigma in mental health and substance use care.

Beginning in 2022, HDL collaborated with BCMHSUS with an aim to create three short, animated videos to share the personal stories of how people with lived experience of mental health and substance use disorders and the criminal justice system have been impacted by stigma. These videos were screened at staff and public dialogue sessions with the intention of disrupting social and structural stigma. Through a co-design process between 3 people with lived experience of mental health and substance use, as well as 2 co-facilitators with lived experience and designers from the Health Design Lab, a 3-part video series, titled “Stories of Stigma,” was created. The series brings viewers along a journey into the stories of people who bravely share how stigma in the healthcare system has impacted their lives, what has helped bridge these gaps, and what their hopes are for the future. In 2023, a second video series was created to feature the perspective of family members.

Now, in 2024, we are collaborating on a third series to feature the stories of BCMHSUS staff, who also have lived experience of mental health and substance use challenges, in an effort to confront stigma in the workplace.

Engagement Approach

Each video series has been co-designed virtually over approximately 10 sessions, between 3 storytellers, 2 peer advisors, 2 design students, and 2 project leads per organization. Key learnings from the collaboration have included how to create safe and brave spaces for gathering stories, using a trauma-informed participatory design approach. From a visual standpoint, illustrations and visual metaphors make the invisible visible, emphasizing feelings and emotions, while moving away from stereotypical depictions of mental health and substance use that perpetuate stereotypes.

Knowledge Sharing

The videos have been utilized by BCMHSUS in a dialogue series as an approach to shifting conversations, building awareness, and shedding light on the stories of individuals with lived experience of mental health and substance use. Moving forward, the video series will continue to be shared in structured and unstructured settings as a knowledge mobilization strategy to challenge stigma through storytelling.

All videos can be viewed on the BCMHSUS website at:

Stigma: Stories of Experience (UNITE Project – Video 1)
Standing in the Gap: Stories of Experience (UNITE Project – Video 2)
Overcoming and Healing: Stories of Experience (UNITE Project – Video 3)
Roles We Play: Family Series (UNITE Project – Video 1)
Redefining Trust and Identity: Family Series (UNITE Project – Video 2)
Navigating the Health Care System: Family Series (UNITE Project – Video 3)

Screening Event, Video Series 1: Challenging Stigma Through Stories

Project Collaborators

Partner + Funder:
BC Mental Health + Substance Use

HDL Project Team:
Caylee Raber
Jon Hannan
Nadia Beyzaei
Otilia Spantalescu
Vannysha Chang (Series 1)
Malika Gill (Series 1)
Jocelyn Kim (Series 2)
Clara Ngie (Series 2)
Lisa Sangeun Park (Series 3)
Qianhui Wan (Series 3)

Feb 2022 – Ongoing

Our Partners