8 of the Best TED Talks for Understanding and Discussing Mental Illness

Talking about mental illness can be sensitive, so take some pointers from these experts.

TED Talks have been around since 1984 when Technology, Entertainment and Design were at the forefront of conversation. Today, these short, inspiring talks focus on an even larger assortment of topics, one of which, mental illness, has grown increasingly popular in recent years.

From psychologists who treat mental illness to those struggling with it themselves, speakers have been appearing on stages across the country to inform others of the realities of psychological disorders and to encourage those grappling with them to hold onto hope.

Here are eight TED Talks that can help you better understand someone with a mental illness.

1. “What’s so funny about mental illness?”

Comedian Ruby Wax uses her quirky personality to explain the stigma of mental illness and show the possibility of everyone becoming mentally ill if preventative measures are not enforced. Comparing mental health to physical health, she tells her story of meeting others with mental disorders through institutionalization during her first mental breakdown.

Wax said that these people have become her closest friends, supporting her as she had to break ties with old friends who were a part of the stigma of depression. She believes that you should treat someone with a mental disorder the same way you would treat someone with a broken leg. In her case, she only had people telling her to “perk up,” which was not helpful.

2. “A tale of mental illness – from the inside”

Elyn Saks became a chaired professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at the USC Gould School of Law despite being diagnosed with a grave prognosis of chronic schizophrenia.

In her TED Talk, she tells her personal story of dealing with this mental illness and informs people about schizophrenia. She reads from her writings about her experiences with the disorder; it is both extraordinary and frightening.

At the end of the video, Saks lists three reasons why she is still here: treatment, her family and friends and a supportive work environment. She says that her family and friends know her and her illness, and that her life still holds meaning because of their understanding and support.

You would think a work environment would not be a place to display your mental illness, but Saks’ workplace is compassionate and accommodating to her needs, helping her to live just like anyone else.

3. “Confessions of a depressed comic”

You might think you can tell if someone is depressed, but Kevin Breel knows that depression is not always evident. He opens his talk with the difference between how his family and friends would describe him and how he would describe himself. The main difference is that he would say he has depression.

Those that see Breel would acknowledge him for the visible aspects of his life, such as being captain of the basketball team. But if they looked deeper into his life, they would see a kid who was depressed and suicidal.

His story highlights his fears of the stigma of mental illness and the importance of being accepting and understanding.

4. “How to connect with depressed friends”

Bill Bernat gives his audience ideas on how to approach and connect with someone who has depression.

Many people might be hesitant to talk to someone with depression, and he lists some of the reasons why that might be, humorously mentioning that maybe someone is afraid to catch depression, so they should obviously just bring hand sanitizer.

Later in his talk, Bernat hits a few more serious notes, providing his listeners with a list of things not to do when talking to a mentally ill person. This list in particular provides insight and instructions on how to help a friend or family member with depression.

5. “The voices in my head”

Eleanor Longden started hearing voices in college. At first they were compassionate, but quickly they became demanding and harmful and forced her to seek help from professionals.

In her TED Talk, she takes the audience on a captivating journey through her experience of having delusions and hallucinations.

She learned through the process that the voices in her head were not her enemies but were present to help find solutions to her emotional problems. Deconstructing the message behind the voices’ words was a method she found beneficial when combating them.

6. “We train soldiers for war. Let’s train them to come home, too.”

Psychologist Hector Garcia uses various treatment methods on Veterans who have PTSD to calm their anxiety and put their memories of war to rest. He recounts a personal story of one veteran, Carlos, who was unable to go out in public without having an anxiety attack.

Garcia explains the daunting experience of PTSD, but he also describes the types of treatment that are used and the surprising effects they have on veterans. After decades of dealing with PTSD, Carlos had felt immense relief after just 10 weeks of intense training-based treatment.

7. “To this day … for the bullied and beautiful”

Shane Koyczan’s talk is a spoken-word poem that is emotional and empowering. His experience with bullying is expressed through rhyme as he touches on the effects of being bullied, having suicidal thoughts and his journey through therapy as a teenager.

Koyczan knows that other kids are like him, and continue to be like him, as bullying continues in schools. He wants everyone to believe that despite the hurt they feel, they are not defined by the names they are called.

8. “There’s no shame in taking care of your mental health.”

Mental illness in men is often overlooked because of the way society views masculinity. The general conception is that men should be strong, supportive and industrious, not weak or sensitive. Sangu Delle brings this misconception to the TED Talk stage as he shares his own account of facing the stigma of mental health.

After losing seven loved ones within the span of a month, Delle was approached by the school nurse about his mental health. Being an African man, he did not believe he should express his feelings.

Delle also gives another example of a man dealing with mental health issues, telling the story of a close friend with schizophrenia whose friends and community distanced themselves from him because of the taboo of mental illness. “We need to see mental health as important as physical health,” he says.

Michelle Dreyer, Southern New Hampshire University

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Michelle Dreyer

Southern New Hampshire University

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