Ways to Handle Being Dismissed When Expressing Mental Health Concerns

The historical stigma surrounding mental health often causes hesitation in sharing experiences. Expressing struggles can be empowering but may be met with criticism or apathy. This article explores why people dismiss these concerns, the toll it takes on well-being, and strategies for handling emotional invalidation.

Taylor Stranaghan By Taylor Stranaghan
Stressed woman sits over a desk.

Updated on May 23, 2024

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The historical stigma around mental health has often caused those who seek treatment to be hesitant to share their experiences with others.

Having the courage to express struggles can be incredibly empowering, as it may even open the doors to receiving support from those around us.

However, there are times when struggles or concerns are met with criticism, resistance, or apathy. This kind of reaction can be disheartening, making the situation that much more difficult when we feel that our mental health concerns are being dismissed.

This article will explore how and why people might dismiss us when we come to them to express our mental health concerns, the toll this can take on well-being, and strategies for handling emotional invalidation or dismissal.

Understanding Dismissal in Mental Health Conversations

Dismissal of mental health issues is not simply about the words that are received – it can be a subtle yet significant form of emotional invalidation that leaves us feeling misunderstood and disempowered.

In a brief conversation, dismissal can manifest in the following ways:

These types of responses can be incredibly damaging for the person who has bravely opened up to receiving support, especially if this was the first vulnerable step they have taken to express their mental health concerns.

Why People Dismiss Mental Health Concerns

There are plenty of factors that contribute to why people dismiss or invalidate our mental health conditions.

A common reason why people dismiss or invalidate our mental health concerns stems from the stigma that surrounds these conversations.

A recent study published by the International Journal of Mental Health Systems defines mental health stigma as “the disgrace, social disapproval, or social discrediting of individuals with a mental health problem”.

Stigma stirs up fear, judgment, and even discrimination of mental illness. According to Melissa Murray, a licensed clinical social worker at Grow Therapy, “People will often feel stigmatized as a result of the dismissal and decide against mental health treatment. This can lead to more issues down the road as the individual is made to feel like they should simply ‘get over it’.”

One of the major problems associated with discussing our mental health concerns is that not everyone understands what it means to be struggling internally. We understand the importance of getting help when we have a torn muscle or a broken bone, but the same recognition is not given to our mental health. Also, people will sometimes dismiss loved ones’ mental health concerns because they love the person so much and don’t want to believe they have so much pain. Meaning, the dismissal doesn’t always come from a negative place even though it leads to pain and emotional strife for the person expressing the concerns.

People will often feel stigmatized as a result of the dismissal and decide against mental health treatment. This can lead to more issues down the road as the individual is made to feel like they should simply ‘get over it’.

- Melissa Murray, LCSW

What is invisible to the eye can often be the most puzzling.

A lack of understanding or awareness about mental health can lead to misconceptions about what it means or underestimations about one’s challenges they face.

For instance, someone might believe that feeling sad or anxious is simply a matter of being weak or unable to handle normal life stresses without realizing the complex biological and psychological factors contributing to these experiences.

An older generation may have been taught to push their emotions and pain down, and they feel successful with this approach, whereas this does not work for the younger generation. Culture and ethnicity can play a part in this approach.

Finally, individuals may not be comfortable having these conversations for various reasons. This includes being fearful of saying the wrong thing or feeling discomfort while discussing emotional topics.

Feeling uncomfortable can cause individuals to avoid or dismiss these conversations altogether, which can worsen our feelings of isolation and decrease our likelihood of seeking support in the future.

Cultural Differences in Handling Dismissal

Culture plays a role in many facets of mental health – from how mental illness is perceived to attitudes toward seeking support from professionals.

In some cultures, expressions of distress may be met with skepticism, shame, or denial, leading to feelings of invalidation and reluctance to seek help. Research has found that individuals who have migrated from countries such as Asia and South Asia may view mental health as taboo or stigmatized, affecting their willingness to discuss or address emotional concerns openly.

These cultural perspectives can lead to increased instances of dismissal when discussing our personal experiences with mental health.

The Role of Gender in Emotional Dismissal

Gender plays an important role in emotional dismissal as well.

This 2022 study found that men hold greater stigmatizing attitudes towards mental health, particularly toward individuals with depression and anxiety, compared to women.

This phenomenon may stem from societal expectations and norms imposed on men, leading them to fear being perceived as weak in any capacity. Consequently, some men may avoid discussions about their mental health and may also adopt a dismissive attitude when confronted with emotional topics.

Emotional Impact of Being Dismissed

Having someone we trust, such as a friend, family member or other caregiver, dismiss us for opening up to them about our mental health concerns can contribute to both immediate and long-term emotional consequences.

Immediate Emotional Reactions

Being dismissed when expressing mental health concerns can have a profound immediate emotional impact. Even a brief conversation can leave us feeling isolated, frustrated, and disheartened, as our attempts to reach out for connection were brushed off as insignificant.

This can trigger an immediate sense of shame. Research suggests that shame is strongly associated with stigma. We tend to experience shame when we sense that others, especially loved ones, view us as flawed, damaged, or ‘less than’ in some capacity.

In turn, this can cause us to become defensive and withdraw from further conversations about our mental health, fearing invalidation or judgment.

Ultimately, we are left with low self-esteem and self-worth. These feelings can make it challenging, sometimes even impossible, to envision a positive outcome for ourselves to consider seeking support from others.

Long-Term Consequences

Over time, the effects of dismissal can gradually erode our emotional well-being, worsening our existing mental health issues and leading to heightened levels of anxiety and depression.

It can also deteriorate trust in our relationships as we feel let down or are left without support by those we thought would understand and validate our hardships. People who have had their mental health concerns dismissed may also feel less inclined to seek out help in the future, leaving them to live with suffering when treatment is available.

Within the dynamic of a romantic relationship, emotional invalidation can interfere with everyday life. A 2023 study found that individuals who experience higher perceived emotional invalidation within their relationships have greater emotional challenges and daily stress. In other words, when people feel that their emotions are continuously being judged or invalidated, their stress becomes more common and more intense while in a negative emotional state.

Strategies to Handle Dismissal

There is profound pain that comes with having our emotions dismissed by those we thought we could trust. Fortunately, we can protect ourselves from the repercussions of emotional invalidation in many ways.

Self-Validation Techniques

Being equipped with the necessary tools during emotionally charged situations is crucial for maintaining our well-being and effectively managing our emotions.

Self-validation techniques are essential tools for improving our mental health, giving us the power to cope with challenging emotions and build our resilience.

Journaling is a cathartic practice that provides a means to express emotions, reflect on experiences, and promote psychological healing.

Two beneficial journaling techniques include:

  1. Expressive writing: Putting all our thoughts (both deep and superficial) onto paper in a free-flowing manner to explore these emotions on a deeper level
  2. Gratitude journaling: Recording all the moments, experiences, and people who we are thankful for to help foster positive emotions

Affirmations are another powerful self-validation technique that can be used whenever we are feeling low, anxious, or in need of a confidence boost. This 2016 study found that self-affirmations play a role in the reward systems in our brain, helping to rewire our neural pathways and promote positive self-perception.

Affirmative language, such as “I am deserving of love, compassion, and support”, “I am resilient and capable of overcoming challenges”, or “I am not defined by my struggles”, can foster a more positive mindset.

Communication Strategies

When our mental health concerns are received without care or compassion, it becomes easy to be defensive, shut down, or become numb to these interactions. However, this is not conducive to improving the situation for future conversations.

The following communication strategies can help us become more effective, confident, and empowered during these interactions.

Using “I” Statements
The first is to use “I” statements to help express our feelings. For example, rather than saying “You always dismiss my feelings” you might say, “I feel invalidated and hurt when my concerns are dismissed.”

In our alternative example, the experience is on our feelings without attributing blame or making accusations which can inspire more of a heated debate rather than a constructive conversation.

Setting Boundaries

Creating well-defined boundaries is another effective way to communicate our needs without becoming dismissed or left unheard. This involves communicating what types of behaviors or reactions are unacceptable to you in these moments, and what consequences will follow if your boundaries are not respected.

You might say, “I need you to take these concerns of mine seriously. If you continue to dismiss me or invalidate my experiences, I will no longer feel comfortable coming to you about them.”

Not only does this strategy create a mutual understanding of your non-negotiables, but it also establishes the foundation for maintaining respectful relationships.

Seeking Supportive Networks

Establishing strong connections with loved ones who can support us, provide validation to our hardships, and give us a sense of solidarity will help reduce feelings of isolation during difficult times.

Begin to prioritize your mental health by seeking out supportive networks, such as online support groups or mental health discussion boards.

Often, these groups can provide a wealth of information, advice, and empathy from other individuals who face similar challenges. For example, Quora has a discussion board to allow people to share “What would you like to say to people invalidating your mental illness” which can help you discover solace in recognizing how many others share this same experience.

The Role of Therapy in Addressing Dismissal

Therapy is a safe and supportive environment that can bridge the gap between individuals’ experiences of dismissal and their emotional well-being. In this setting, we are encouraged to work through our emotional challenges piece by piece, acknowledging that no amount of detail or experience is too much for a therapist to digest.

Therapeutic approaches that are beneficial in addressing dismissal include:

Whether you’re seeking strategies to cope with emotional invalidation, aiming to enhance resilience, improve communication, or develop boundary-setting skills, therapy may be the place for you.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the reason why people dismiss our mental health concerns is one of the first steps towards healing from it. Acknowledge that this pain is real to begin the process of advocating for ourselves in these situations.

Being proactive in our approach, such as utilizing self-validation techniques, seeking out supportive networks, and processing the pain of emotional invalidation through therapy can help us navigate the challenges with care and begin to prioritize our mental health needs.

Moving forward, we want to encourage others to speak up, seek support, and create environments where mental health concerns are treated with care and compassion.


  • Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the other person is purposefully making you second guess yourself to gain power and control over you. Emotional invalidation is not as malicious but is still painful.

  • Invalidation of mental health issues refers to someone who dismisses, disregards, or belittles your feelings or experiences. This can cause us to feel small, misunderstood, crazy, or ashamed and less likely to reach out for support in the future.

  • This is called emotional invalidation or having a disregard for your emotions.

  • The best way to respond to emotional invalidation is by expressing your feelings in a kind and assertive manner, using “I” language, setting boundaries to limit this type of conversation with this person, and seeking support from other, more understanding individuals or mental health professionals.

  • When dealing with someone who invalidates you, it is important to first communicate boundaries with them. Next, it may be helpful to educate the person about the impact of their behavior. Finally, it may be necessary to limit interactions with your loved one on topics where you are being dismissed to maintain your mental health and well-being.

About the author
Taylor Stranaghan Taylor Stranaghan

Taylor is a spirited writer, dedicated to exploring various layers of mental wellness, mindfulness, and personal growth. With a background in clinical research and pursuit of a Master’s in Counselling Psychology, she is passionate about crafting engaging content to empower and uplift individuals navigating their unique mental health journeys.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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