TED talks are always a good resource for getting inspired, and on the subject of mental health, it can be especially beneficial to expose yourself to a wide variety of personal and professional accounts. Mental health is a topic rife with taboo, prejudice, and stereotypes, and this list of TED talks will bust open your assumptions about mental health.

Amongst these powerful TED talks, you’ll discover difficult subjects such as depression, schizophrenia, and suicide being handled with compassion and tact.

The talks feature a range of perspectives from neuroscientists and psychologists to comedians; from those who study mental illness to those who suffer from it – and occasionally both!

Dig into these lectures for a deeper understanding of your own brain and for new and better ways to be compassionate to those around you.

1) Your Brain Is More Than A Bag Of Chemicals From David Anderson

David Anderson is rethinking the brain. Describing the traditional view of the brain as “a big bag of chemical soup”, in this powerful TED talk Anderson explains how his research is giving him and his colleagues a new view about the structure of the brain and the role of the brain chemicals in mental illness.

Anderson argues that by pinpointing the location of the release of these chemicals we can develop new and highly specific treatments for an array of mental illnesses from depression to schizophrenia. With charisma and charm, he explains how he’s using a bunch of fruit flies to help him do so! Let Anderson take you on a journey through his research and in doing so you may end up understanding your own brain a little better.

2) There’s No Shame in Taking Care of Your Mental Health From Sangu Delle

Sangu Delle begins his emotional TED talk from a place of personal experience. As he faced up to his own anxiety and depression, Delle was forced to tackle his own assumptions and prejudices about men and mental health. In this piece Delle allows us to join him on the journey he underwent – from toxic masculinity to emotional maturity.

Subtly unpicking the intersection of race and gender as barriers to pursuing mental health treatment, Delle is on a mission to undermine the stigma of mental health. As Delle emphasizes in his personal account anyone can suffer from poor mental health. Becoming comfortable talking about your emotions is an important first step for anyone to take in pursuing help.

3) Why We Choose Suicide From Mark Henick

Like Sangu Delle, Henick begins his TED talk with a moving personal account of his own experiences, this time not just with depression but with thoughts of suicide. The topic itself is one surrounded by profound taboo, and the value of Henick’s open account is partially in demystifying something that’s hard to talk about, but utterly crucial that we learn to do so.

Henick’s dual perspective as both a patient and a professional provides him with a powerful platform from which to speak. Watching this video you’ll be struck by his sensitive understanding of the way a suicidal person comes to their decision, as well as learning ways to entirely reframe suicide to help those afflicted by its lure.

4) The Bridge Between Suicide And Life From Kevin Briggs

California highway patrolman Kevin Briggs’s 23-year career qualified him to talk about suicide in a most peculiar way. As guardian of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge for many of those years, Briggs was intimately involved with many people seeking suicide from its heights. His difficult but rewarding role as guardian of the bridge, and his close contact with many people at a time of crisis, gives him a unique and compassionate perspective on suicide.

Following Henick, Briggs is working in his own way to undermine the suicide taboo. His TED talk is brimming with practical advice for anyone dealing with a loved one who may be considering suicide. Watching this TED talk might even enable you to save a life.

5) How To Start A Conversation About Suicide From Jeremy Forbes

Jeremy Forbes’s charity HALT (Hope Assistance Local Tradies) works to support tradespeople – in Australia, overwhelmingly men – to access mental health support in their local communities. Touching on the complex issues of gender and mental health introduced by Delle, Forbes’s TED talk continues in the spirit of Henick in teaching us ways to support those around us struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Forbes’s work with tradespeople has made him a master of overcoming barriers to discussing mental health with the recalcitrant men in his community and his nuanced TED talk will provide you with essential tools for helping those around you.

6) Confessions Of A Depressed Comic From Kevin Breel

Kevin Breel’s intimate TED talk describes his struggles with depression and powerfully connects his feeling of “living two different lives” with a broad misunderstanding of how depression operates in functional and seemingly successful individuals. His emotional and intensely personal account will be at once encouraging for anyone who has experienced first-hand the deadly might of depression, as well as offering important tools for discussing it with loved ones.

By offering an atypical image of a sufferer of ill mental health – a functional, funny, and successful person – Breel undermines our biases around depression and creates the important space for beginning to battle against it.

7) Mental Health For All By Involving All From Vikram Patel

Patel begins with the shocking statistic that in developing countries, close to 90% of people suffering from mental illness go untreated (in wealthy nations it’s a still shocking 50%). Expanding the conversation about mental health from a Western perspective to a global one, Patel has developed a new approach to mental health services that can expand into the developing world.

Patel’s community-based approach to mental health treatment empowers ordinary people without years of training to intervene in mental health crises. This appeal to the compassion and care possessed by all people around the world has the power to greatly expand our ability to support those suffering from mental illness.

8) What’s So Funny About Mental Illness? From Ruby Wax

Diagnosed with clinical depression over a decade ago, comedian Ruby Wax has experienced first-hand the subject of her moving TED talk – the doubly cruel affliction of mental illness and societal discrimination that can follow it.

Wax’s personal and practical advice will help anyone suffering from mental illness to deal with the stigma that often accompanies it. As a walking counterexample to society’s stereotype of the mentally ill, Ruby Wax discusses a difficult subject with immense energy and humor in this TED talk.

9) The Voices In My Head From Eleanor Longdon

Eleanor Longdon’s experience with schizophrenia provided her with an up-close look at the ugly, failing system of mental health support in the UK. Describing her journey, which began with the sound of an innocuous narrative voice in her head, to hospitalization and then the long struggle back to mental health, Longdon offers a powerful account of living with schizophrenia.

Now a professional psychologist, Longdon makes the compelling and surprising case that her survival hinged on listening to those voices in her head. This TED talk undermines simplistic narratives about mental illness and conceptualizes her schizophrenia as a meaningful response to her traumatic childhood. Valuable for its personal and professional perspective, Longdon is likely to get you looking differently at mental illness.

10) Toward A New Understanding Of Mental Health From Thomas Insel

Thomas Insel begins with the analogy to physical health – through early detection, deaths from heart disease have been reduced by 63%. He asks: could we do the same thing with deaths associated with schizophrenia and depression? Insel believes that early detection of mental illness is possible through structural changes to our health care service and that it has the power to profoundly affect the outcomes of these illnesses.

Insel wants to reconceptualize mental health as stemming from “brain disorders” and this shift to an emphasis on the physical state of the brain will create the conditions for the early detection he advocates. His powerful thesis is based on research that in mental health, the behavior is the last thing to change – in Alzheimer’s, for example, the brain has been undergoing changes for a decade or more before it starts to affect behavior. Understanding mental illness as not manifested through behavior but through changes in the brain could be the key to timely and responsive treatment.

In Summary

Research has shown that in the USA almost half of the adults will experience mental illness at some point in their lifetime, and yet as a society, we still struggle to talk about and understand mental health. The first step towards ending the stigma associated with much of mental illness begins with education and awareness. Engaging with this list of TED talks is sure to provide you with the tools to understand your own psychological impulses as well as support those you care about in their own struggles.

Canadian Fast Facts about Mental Illness

Who is affected?

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend, or colleague.
  • In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).

How common is it?

  • By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness.
  • Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24-year-olds and 16% among 25-44-year-olds.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
  • The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.

What causes it?

  • A complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors causes mental illnesses.
  • Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
  • Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.
  • Mental illnesses can be treated effectively.

What is the economic cost?

  • The economic cost of mental illnesses in Canada for the health care system was estimated to be at least $7.9 billion in 1998 – $4.7 billion in care, and $3.2 billion in disability and early death.
  • An additional $6.3 billion was spent on uninsured mental health services and time off work for depression and distress that was not treated by the health care system.
  • In 1999, 3.8% of all admissions in general hospitals (1.5 million hospital days) were due to anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, major depression, personality disorders, eating disorders and suicidal behavior.
  • Sources: The Report on Mental Illness in Canada, October 2002. EBIC 1998 (Health Canada 2002), Stephens et al., 2001

How does it impact youth?

  • It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide.
  • Today, approximately 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode.
  • The total number of 12-19-year-olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million.
  • Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.
  • Mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of our children; with Canada’s youth suicide rate the third highest in the industrialized world.
  • Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15-24-year-old Canadians, second only to accidents; 4,000 people die prematurely each year by suicide.
  • Schizophrenia is youth’s greatest disabler as it strikes most often in the 16 to 30 year age group, affecting an estimated one person in 100.
  • Surpassed only by injuries, mental disorders in youth are ranked as the second-highest hospital care expenditure in Canada.
  • In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receive them.
  • Reference Mental Health Commission of Canada (2013). Making the case for investing in mental health in Canada.

Author Bio: Beatrix Potter works as a specialist book marketer for Essay Writing Service. She writes articles about book marketing.


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