There are a variety of TED Talks for all topics, including health and wellness. As we’ve been focusing on mental health, we thought we might share our five favorite TED Talks on the subject.
Since the high profile suicide of comedian Robin Williams, our culture has been asking questions about mental illness and how someone can project such a different persona in public while struggling with demons inside.
In this TED Talk, standup comedian Kevin Breel talks about his struggle with depression. He describes how he lived two very distinct lives: the one everyone saw and the one inside his own head. He discusses the misconceptions about depression. It isn’t just sadness. Sadness is normal and everyone feels it in their lives. Depression is sadness when everything else in life is going well.
Depression, as Breel says, is a real problem because no one is willing to talk about it. People don’t post about it on social media. No one would look at him and see a troubled, suicidal kid. As he dealt with the impact of his depression, he felt that he was living two totally different lives where one person was literally afraid of the other. He feared that vulnerability. And ultimately, he thought there was only one way out. Eventually he found himself becoming numb to it.
There is a stigma that breeds personal embarrassment and it is that embarrassment that keeps people from getting the help they truly need. Breel accurately describes depression as one of the best documented, but least discussed problems in the world. Depression won’t fix itself so people have to be brave, speak up, and teach themselves acceptance. It is okay to be depressed. It is an issue, not an identity. Breel says that now he is grateful for his experiences. It has given him perspective. He realized that there is no light without darkness. What he needed to learn was to embrace the light without ignoring the dark. He implores viewers to stop the ignorance and the stigma surrounding depression. The only way to beat a problem, he says, is to stand strong together.
From Breel’s frank discussion of depression, we turn to the real and riveting story of Eleanor Longden. She begins her story with college. Everything appeared to be perfect, but it was a well-crafted veneer. She was deeply unhappy but very skilled at hiding this fear and emptiness she felt inside.
One day, quite unexpectedly, she began to hear another voice in her head who narrated her daily activities. The voice was clear, neutral, and passive. When she talked to doctors about anxiety and low self-worth they were indifferent, but once she shared knowledge of her voices everything changed. She was told that normal people didn’t hear voices. She was treated as insane and diagnosed with schizophrenia and was hospitalized and dehumanized. The voice was treated as a symptom. As her medical interventions increased, the voice turned from passive to aggressive and angry. She began hallucinating and experienced delusions. She said she was drugged and discarded.
Eventually, Longden learned that the voices weren’t a disease; they were her brain’s very normal survival response to traumatic abuse that occurred throughout her life. She had to learn to deconstruct their messages and separate the metaphorical from the literal. She learned that the most important question that can be asked of someone like her was not “what’s wrong with you?” but “what’s happened to you?”
In another TED Talk that breaks the silence on schizophrenia, law and psychology professor Elyn Saks discusses her experience with this illness from the inside. She shares personal readings from her own journals that describe how she felt as she was faced with the effects and treatments for this mental disorder.
Saks discusses her hospitalizations and how she was told she would never be a productive member of society. She speaks frankly about her psychotic episodes and how she would quickly find herself out of touch with reality. She had false sensory hallucinations and waking nightmares. Her head was full of noise. She talked about the pure terror of being placed in restraints in the hospital and the number of people who die in similar restraints each year.
For a time in her life she tried to avoid medical intervention. She believed, like many people, that the less medication she took the less defective she was. Eventually, she received effective treatment and changed her mind about medical care for mental illness. She found she wasn’t anti-treatment, but she was anti-force. Saks encourages people to change their perception of this disease. No one is “a schizophrenic,” they are people with schizophrenia. With more research on the condition, better treatments will be developed and now is the time to stop criminalizing the disorder. Rightfully, she suggests that the humanity we all share is more important than the mental illness we may not.
In this very short TED talk, survivor JD Schramm shares his own story about his failed suicide attempt. While brief, the discussion is frank and personal. Nineteen out of every 20 suicide attempts fail but studies show that this demographic will likely try again and succeed. His concern is the lack of resources for survivors to put their lives back together physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He encourages us to speak out and speak with one another about depression and suicide.
From an opposite perspective, former Highway Patrol sergeant Kevin Briggs offers stories from his time as the responding officer on the Golden Gate Bridge. When it was built, the bridge was called “practically suicide proof,” but since that time over 1,600 people have jumped. When his career began, Briggs said there was no formal training for police officers responding to suicides on the bridge. This was a systemic problem for both the officers and the individuals in need of their help.
While Briggs responded to many suicide attempts on the bridge, he only lost two. They were two too many. There is always collateral damage and dealing with these suicides was difficult for him as well as their families. The suicides he prevented often came down to one thing: someone who listened. Very few people survive a jump from the bridge. Those that do all said that in the moments after they leapt, they realized they wanted to live.
Have you been touched by a TED Talk on mental health?
Image by Julian Fong via Flickr