Why we must share our stories of mental health

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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.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock



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.


Making sense

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.


Helping others

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.


Moving forward

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:

Article by Rosy Edwards

#MeetTheSpeaker – Yvonne Ellis

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Yvonne Ellis is an author, speaker and the founder of Daughter Arise, a charity that supports survivors of sexual abuse. Her memoir of the same name chronicles Yvonne’s own experience of abuse and journey to recovery. Here, she talks about the power of speaking out, being a surprising introvert and the joy of good coffee.

Yvonne Ellis, Founder of Daughter Arise


How are you preparing for your TEDxWandsworth talk?

I am drawing on my own experience, and my experience of supporting survivors over the last six years, as well as watching TED talks.


How did you come up with the idea for your talk?

The idea has come from my own journey – the struggles I had with finding my voice in the wake of the abuse I suffered, and the struggles of other survivors trying to break the silence about what happened to them. I wanted to do a talk that addressed some of the issues but that also allows the audience to understand what the prison of silence is like and how as a society we can help someone to break free.


Why is sexual abuse still such a taboo and, crucially, under-funded, issue?

Socially, I believe there is a reluctance to accept that it happens to the most vulnerable people and is committed by the most unlikely of people.

In terms of funding, the issue is at government level. There are many organisations doing great work to educate the public on the effects of sexual abuse, but at governmental level there is a lack of understanding of the scale and how sexual abuse impacts the survivors.

Other areas, like unemployment, get a lot of funding because [the results] are visually measurable; the impact of sexual abuse probably is not as visible. I think more funding should be open to the organisations that are on the ground doing the work and the government could help by investing in centres that provide specialised counselling.


You are very open about your own experience. How important is it for survivors of sexual abuse to speak out?

It is incredibly important that survivors speak out – finding your voice is the first step to personal healing. I know it is not easy but by being open and honest about how my experience affected me, I hope survivors can find courage and hope.


Who or what inspires you?

Courageous people who are willing to take risks in order to achieve extraordinary things.


Would you describe yourself as an extrovert, or an introvert?

I am an introvert. Some may find it hard to believe with all I do!


How do you spend your down time?

I like reading books of interest, listening to empowering talks that promote self-development, spending time with my family and exercising.


What one thing would you like to know before you die?

I’m not sure there is one thing I would want to know; I am just happy to let life unfold as it is and see what it brings.


What is your favourite TED or TEDx talk?

I have a few favourites. Zain Asher ‘Trust your struggle’ and Bill Eckstrom ‘Why Comfort will ruin your life’ are two of the most inspirational for me.


Happiness is…

Loving self, loving family, relaxing and drinking nice coffee and eating cake with my hubby in a lovely coffee shop!


Don’t miss Yvonne and 15 other ‘Truth & Dare’ speakers at TEDxWandsworth on November 25th. Click here for limited tickets.

Interview by Rosy Edwards

#MeetTheSpeaker – David Jubb

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A former theatre producer, David Jubb was named Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in 2004. He trained at Bretton Hall, Bristol University and Central School of Speech and Drama, where he is a honourary fellow and he has been awarded an honourary doctorate from University of Roehampton. Here, he talks about everyday creativity, the power of direct performance and hiding out in the loo.

David Jubb, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC)


How are you preparing for your TEDxWandsworth talk?

I am using ‘Scratch’ (a development process for ideas which we use at Battersea Arts Centre). In the summer, I did an outline plan and sought out feedback on the initial idea from various people, including the TEDxWandsworth team.

This autumn, I did a first full draft, again asking more people more questions and receiving more feedback. Now I am having some time away from the idea before going back to it later this month, hopefully with fresh perspective, to create a final draft.

Then comes the bit I am least looking forward to – trying to learn it. I’ve never known how people are so fluent when they deliver their 15-minute TED talks – I am guessing most people just learn the text they have put together, so I am going to have a go at that!


How did you come up with the idea for your talk?

By being given a deadline… then it was partly fear and partly excitement. I also have doubts about the whole ‘TED thing’ – this connects with the theme of what I want to explore, which is about our creativity and about taking action. I often find that a tension, difficulty or challenge is another good driver for coming up with an idea.


Why is art such a vital aspect of society?

We are all creative. We use our creativity every day to think stuff through, to look at something differently, to get stuff done. As a result, our world is full of billions of miniature works of art, created every day, by all of us. So art is an everyday component of our lives, it’s just about whether we choose to see it, and proactively tap into our own creativity to do stuff.


Your role at Battersea Arts Centre exposes you to a huge variety of art in different formats – do you have a favourite?

I am a big fan of live performance where the person performing has a live and direct relationship with the audience – whether that is playing an instrument, telling a story or dancing.

If that relationship is not direct, if there’s a pretense that the audience is invisible (as happens in a lot of live performance) then I don’t enjoy it as much and I’d rather watch TV or a film. But when everyone is in a room together, it’s an exciting energy with the possibility that anything might happen. I think this is why people often enjoy it when something goes wrong in live shows – because everyone knows it is a truly live moment in which something changes.


Who or what inspires you?

Change. Kate Tempest’s work. Ken Robinson’s ideas on creativity. Deli Ali’s creativity. My wife and my daughters. Small acts of kindness.


Would you describe yourself as an extrovert, or an introvert?

I’m an introverted extrovert. I enjoy the energy and potential of people being together. I am inspired by people all the time. But I have always been desperately shy and spend more time than I need to in the toilet.


How do you spend your down time?

With my family. Cuddling the dog. Re-organising things. Learning to grow things. Watching a box set.


What one thing would you like to know before you die?

Exactly when I started dying and what caused it – just for completeness. I am a hypochondriac.


What is your favourite TED or TEDx talk?

Do Schools Kill Creativity’ by Ken Robinson.


Happiness is…

The feeling that things are getting better not worse. Failing that, eating a chocolate raisin.

Don’t miss David and 15 other ‘Truth & Dare’ speakers at TEDxWandsworth on November 25th. Click here for limited tickets.

Interview by Rosy Edwards

#MeetTheSpeaker – Waney Squier

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Dr Waney Squier is a Consultant Neuropathologist to the Oxford John Radcliffe Hospitals Clinical lecturer at University of Oxford. Her specialism is in the pathology of the developing brain in the foetus and neonate. Other areas of interest are developmental causes of epilepsy and muscle pathology. Here, she talks about her passion for her work, sharing ideas and appreciating the present.


Waney Squier, Paediatric Neuropathologist. Photograph Courtesy of Ryan J-W Smith, 2017


How are you preparing for your TEDxWandsworth talk?

I am thinking, reading and talking, talking, talking. Talking to those who know and support my views and to those who don’t know anything about the subject. I hope this will hone my skills at presenting some pretty complex material.

How did you come up with the idea for your talk?

I spent 20 years as an expert medical witness and in 2010 I was reported to the GMC by the Police for challenging mainstream views on shaken baby syndrome. My talk is about silencing dissent and the effect it has had on delivering justice for parents and families.

What drew you into a career in medicine?

I was fascinated by biology, by how the human body works.

Medical issues and terminology can be quite complex. How will you make your talk accessible for the TEDxWandsworth audience?

Practice. My medical career has given me experience in discussing really difficult issues – severe illness, death and autopsy  – with parents. As an expert witness, I addressed juries and lawyers who need to have medicine and science clearly explained. I’ll use what I’ve learnt from those experiences which taught me a lot. But I still need to use my friends and family as sounding-boards to make sure I’m presenting things so that everyone can understand.

Who or what inspires you?

The sheer wonder of the complexity and orderliness of the brain’s development and its response to injury. These have kept me interested for 34 years, and there’s so much to learn.

Colleagues like John Plunkett, a brilliant American Forensic pathologist whose compassion and tenacity in explaining the problems with the shaken baby hypothesis has inspired hundreds of doctors and lawyers around the world.

The joy of seeing my two little granddaughters develop.

Would you describe yourself as an extrovert, or an introvert?

An extrovert, I suppose – I always want to discuss problems I’m working through. It’s important not to be in a silo when you’re working in a field like medicine, you have to pool research and exchange ideas and thinking to make progress. My personal life is similar – I have a huge circle of very dear friends and we talk about everything. Both coupled with a terrifying fear that I’m totally socially inept, of course.

How do you spend your down time?

In concerts, walking, cooking good food and tasting good wine with my friends.

What one thing would you like to know before you die?

I’d be at peace if I knew parents were no longer being wrongly accused of harming their babies based on the shaken baby hypothesis.

What is your favourite TED or TEDx talk?

Molly McGrath Tierney’s ‘Rethinking foster care’ at TEDxBaltimore

Happiness is…here and now: appreciate it!

Don’t miss Waney and 15 other ‘Truth & Dare’ speakers at TEDxWandsworth on November 25th. Click here for limited tickets.

Interview by Rosy Edwards