TED and TEDx are changing the conversation about mental health, offering a platform for people to share their stories and there’s something in it for speaker and listener alike.
The cruel irony at the heart of many people’s mental health battle is that they need to talk most at the time they feel like talking the least.
Those who suffer are trapped looking inward, turning away from the world often out of shame and disconnection and fighting a war that is waged in the mind. It is a long and lonely endeavour, and it can make people reluctant to engage.
Such is the persistent stigma around mental health that people are equally reluctant to share their story. They fear for their professional life, or how friends and family might perceive them. They worry that they might be thought of as weak or incapable.
Considering that roughly 1 in 4 of us struggles with a mental problem every year, this is a position that needs to change – and fast.
TED and TEDx are at the forefront of the revolution, encouraging people with mental health problems to share their stories rather than stay quiet. It offers a platform for voices that have never before been heard. It reaches millions in countries around the world. Its emphasis is on the story over statistics, highlighting the people and the journeys, not just the labels.
TED recognises the importance of sharing stories about mental health; it understands the positive impact for the speaker and audience alike. Some of the most iconic, powerful stories around mental health have come from the TED and TEDx stages and each one reminds us why it is so vital that sufferers speak up.
Mental health issues are fully immersive. They take up energy, time and focus and leave sufferers without the capacity to ‘think’ – people often describe the experience as being ‘plunged into darkness’ or ‘trapped in a fog’.
To move beyond suffering, we must first have space in our minds to make sense of what has happened, what is happening. Telling your story requires critical thinking – considering a chronology, recalling facts. Said aloud, thoughts lose their subjectivity. We can start to understand mental health within the context of our lives: when did it start, and what may have triggered the crisis? What helped? What hindered?
Once understood, we are better able to reflect. We start to process the feelings and consider their impact on life ahead – for many people, a mental health issue can be life-altering. Sharing is the beginning of healing.
Finding your voice
‘Finding your voice’ is more than just learning to tell your story aloud; it is about reclaiming ownership of your story. So often, people with mental health problems feel they are controlled by their illness – when we share our story, in our own words, with a loud voice, we resume power. We are in control.
Self-esteem is one of the earliest casualties for people struggling with a mental health problem. People tend to fear they aren’t as strong as those around them; they berate themselves for being weak (though nothing could be further from the truth) and blame themselves for feeling ‘down’.
Finding one’s voice is about re-building confidence. Your voice should be heard – you have an important story to tell.
There are few more powerful words in our vocabulary than ‘me too’. By sharing our story, we include, we empower, we inform. We show people that they are not alone. We give them a voice of their own, and even if all they are able to say is ‘me too’, sometimes that is enough.
Stories are for everyone. They are accessible to those who are going through the same thing. They are relatable to those who do not understand what is happening to them. They capture the imagination of people who can only empathise, and offer care.
As a race, humans have been sharing stories for centuries. Today we are facing an epidemic of a silent but often fatal disease – there has never been a more important time to build a supportive community through the stories we share.
Having a mental health problem need not be a life long affliction. Many people move through and past periods of illness; others successfully manage their conditions throughout their lives, but in both scenarios, it is crucial that the conversation is on-going.
We must continue to talk about mental health in order to improve treatment. We must continue to share our stories to find inner resilience and connect with others. And we must listen, to show anyone battling a mental illness that they are important, and they are heard. Only then can we move forward together.
To learn about TED/TEDx speakers who have spoken about mental health issues visit:
- How social interaction helps people with mental health difficulties | Hannah Reidy
- A model’s journey to the other side of the camera | Tereza Červeňová
- Depression, the secret we share | Andrew Solomon
- Art can heal PTSD’s invisible wounds | Melissa Walker
Article by Rosy Edwards