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TED Talks: Mental Illness

Mental Health @ Home - TED Talks on mental health and illness

Here are a few great TED Talks I’ve found on a variety of topics related to mental health and illness.


The Voices in My Head

(Eleanor Longden)

A psychiatrist once told Eleanor Longden that she would be better off having cancer than a psychotic illness, as it would be more curable. Having the voice she heard framed as a symptom triggered what she experienced as a “civil war” inside her mind, which led to a worsening of the voices and command auditory hallucinations.

She later came to understand her voices as a response to traumatic childhood events, and she tried to pay attention to their metaphorical rather than literal meaning. She set boundaries and became assertive with her voices. She is part of the hearing voices movement (Intervoice), and this is a fascinating look at how the experience of hearing voices can be reframed in a way that is more consistent with recovery.


On Being Just Crazy Enough

(Joshua Walters)

In this short talk, Joshua Walters talks about the connection between being a comic and having bipolar disorder. He talked about the “mental skillness” that comes with the creative edge of hypomania, and how it is often viewed as desirable when people are “just manic enough”. I found this comment particularly interesting: “Maybe there’s no such thing as crazy… Maybe it just means you’re more sensitive to what most people can’t see or feel.”


A Tale of Mental Illness – From the Inside

(Elyn Saks)

When Elyn Saks was in law school, she became psychotic.  She was hospitalized involuntarily, put in restraints, and diagnosed with schizophrenia.  She initially resisted taking medication, thinking that if she could manage without meds that would prove she wasn’t mentally ill.  Eventually, though, with psychoanalytic therapy, medications, supportive relationships, and a positive workplace environment, she was able to manage her illness.  She is an excellent example of someone living with schizophrenia and thriving.  She speaks out about various issues related to stigma, including the criminalization of mental illness and inaccurate portrayals of mental illness in arts and entertainment.


Your Brain is More Than Just a Bag of Chemicals

(David Anderson)

David Anderson speaks about his research examining neural circuits in fruit flies.  He likens current psychiatric treatment to trying to do an oil change on a car by pouring oil over the entire engine block.  His studies in fruit flies have shown that modifying dopamine receptors can have different effects depending on the specific area targeted, and he suggests that we need to work on developing more targeted psychiatric treatments in humans that wouldn’t have the gamut of side effects that current non-specific treatments have.


Mental Health For All by Involving All

(Vikram Patel)

Vikram Patel addresses the worldwide shortage of mental health professionals, particularly in developing countries, by task shifting, i.e. training those who are already on the ground to deliver interventions.  This has been demonstrated to be effective, including one study in Uganda that demonstrated positive results with psychotherapeutic interventions.  Dr. Patel identified the elements of this empowering intervention in the acronym SUNDAR: Simplify the message, UNpack the treatment into smaller components, Deliver it where people are, use Affordable and available human resources, and Reallocation of specialists to train and supervise.  This is an exciting new frontier for mental health care worldwide.


Want more TED Talks suggestions?  I’ve also done posts covering TED Talks on depression, suicide, stigma, trauma, and mental wellbeing.

Book cover: Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis by Ashley L. Peterson

Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis aims to cut through the misunderstanding and stigma, drawing on the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria and guest narratives to present mental illness as it really is.

It’s published by MH@H Books and available on Amazon and Google Play.

4 thoughts on “TED Talks: Mental Illness”

  1. I’ve heard of Joshua Walters before and found him to hit everything home for me when it came to my family trying to understand. They just thought I was oversensitive (Then again, my sister still does). Yet, she has her own issues with anger misplacement and mental illness too. Very good post indeed.

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