Ted Talk Tuesday event uncovers the stigma around mental health

The AVIATE event centered around the Ted Talk “What’s So Funny About Mental Illness?” allows for UD students to have a dialogue on ways to prevent mental health stigma. Photo of Rudy Wax courtesy of ted.com.

Ashton Hunt | Contributing Writer

On Nov. 9 Lindsey Young, a graduate assistant from the Brook Center, hosted AVIATE’s “Ted Talk Tuesday” in the Adele Center. 

Every Tuesday, the Brook Center hosts a “Ted Talk Tuesday” event that helps students think more deeply about their relationships with themselves, others and the world.  Each week, a different pressing topic is explored such as health equity, mental health, sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ+ populations. The event consists of watching a Ted Talk related to the theme of the day and engaging in a group discussion that is intended to delve into the related theme through a critical lens. This event draws attention to serious topics and provides students with a comfortable and safe space to discuss a chosen topic of relevance. 

The featured Ted Talk was titled “What’s So Funny About Mental Illness?” presented by Ruby Wax, a sufferer of mental illness herself. Wax touched on her personal experience with mental illness and being institutionalized while highlighting the prevalence of mental illness. Wax said that 25% of people suffer from a mental disorder in America. 

Wax also drew attention to stigma around mental illness, pinpointing that while she was institutionalized for her mental disorder, she received frequent calls from friends and family telling her to just “perk up.” Wax reiterates that this is a common stigma surrounding mental illness; People think mental illness can be ameliorated by merely cheering up. 

To this suggestion, Wax responds, “Gee, I haven’t thought of that one.” 

Wax then posed the question, “How come when people have mental damage, it’s always an act of imagination?” 

In short, Wax concluded that because there is no tangible evidence to support the diagnosis of a chemical imbalance, people struggle to believe that it is real. Wax closed her Ted Talk by saying that if society cannot continue talking about the detrimental effects of mental illness and learn how to acclimate, the statistic will become 100% of people suffering from mental illness.

Young asked the students, “What are your main takeaways from this Ted Talk?” One student revealed that her main takeaway was that mental health has a heavy stigma in the sense that people who are victims of a mental illness are told to “just perk up,” as if it is that simple. Another student wanted to further this student’s thought by highlighting that if there was an x-ray to demonstrate an individual’s mental instability, people would be more sympathetic. 

Next, Young asked the students, “What stigmas do we see today?” One student stated that there is a stigma in connection with seeking out help as there are people in society that do not believe in mental illness or understand that mental illness is just something that people need to learn how to handle better.  

Another student disclosed that in her class, her professor took a poll to prove that there is a stigma around getting help for mental health. Students were asked to raise their hands if they felt comfortable telling another person that they had a doctor’s appointment. The vast majority of students proceeded to raise their hands. Then, the professor directed students to raise their hands if they felt comfortable telling another person they had a counseling appointment. In response to this, only a handful of students raised their hands, showing an example of the stigma surrounding mental health.

Following this, Young asked students to share with their neighbors and posed the question, “What can we do as UD students to help dismantle stigma?” One student offered the idea for more events on mental illness. Young herself pressed the group to stop using insensitive comments that may be meant as jokes such as, “I am so OCD about cleaning.” 

Lastly, Young concluded the group discussion with an overview of the support that UD has put in place to aid in navigating mental illness: the Brook Center, the Counseling Center, Co-Pilots, CADRE, the Dean of Students Office, Campus Ministry and more. Young ended the Ted Talk Tuesday with a 30 second breathing exercise where students were encouraged to close their eyes and focus on their breathing.

 Young stated that this talk was especially important due to the tragic week the university experienced with three students passing away. Stigma can only be broken with more awareness on the underlying yet prevalent issue of mental health. Information for students about counseling and support resources is available on UD’s Health and Wellbeing website

Upcoming Ted Talk Tuesday Events:

  • The Sexual Politics of Meat on Nov. 23
  • Fight HIV Stigma through Access, Mobilization and Equality on Nov. 30
  • The Power of Introverts on Dec. 7

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