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Mind games – Transcending the messiness of mental illness: Amber Naslund at TEDxPeachtree 2012

December 21, 2019

Translator: Susana Byun
Reviewer: Maricene Crus Host: Our next speaker, Amber Naslund,
is actually a social media strategist. But today, she is taking us on the journey
that she has been on as she worked to overcome
depression, anxiety, looking into some
of the areas of the mind that Carrie was touching on
in terms of stress and disorder. Her talk today, entitled “Mind games: transcending
the messiness of mental illness.” (Applause) Amber Naslund:
Hi, I am so excited to be here today. When Jackie and I
first talked about this talk, I went through all my usual ministrations
that I do as a professional speaker, and I started to put together
slides and videos, and I have none of that today. Because this story doesn’t really fit. And I want to start you in 1993, on a Midwestern college campus,
much this kind of time of year, where it’s fall,
and there’s a lot of excitement, and the anticipation of new school,
new friends, new people. And there was a young woman on the floor of her dorm room shower. And it’s cold and she’s shaking, and she’s sobbing silently,
with her arms wrapped around her knees, and no matter how hot the water gets,
she can’t get warm. And she’s hoping that nobody
comes into that room and finds her there on the floor. That nobody asks her, “What’s wrong?” That nobody can see into her mind,
where she is saying to herself, over and over again, “I hate you. You are worthless. I hate you!” I am here today because
there are too many women on the floors of showers, and there are too many
professional people in their offices, who take 30 seconds
out of every 20 minutes to go hide in the bathroom
because they need a moment to cry, to be angry or to be afraid. And I’m here today because
there’s too many people that wake up in the morning, and all they want to do
is crawl back into bed and wish that the world
would just disappear and go away. I am talking about the people
who suffer every day and live with mental illness, whether it’s depression or anxiety,
bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, the entire gamit of that. It’s so prevalent in our world,
but we don’t talk about it. I’m here on this stage
so we can talk about it. It’s a stigma that we’ve created
amongst our society because it’s uncomfortable
to talk about these things. Depression and anxiety are weird. They’re like the crazy uncle
you bring to the family reunion, but you kind of pretend he’s not there. And you shove him off into the corner
and you’re like, “I don’t know that guy.” And we don’t talk about these things
at all amongst even our closest friends. I work a lot on the internet
in my day-to-day job, and I am fascinated by what people
will share on Facebook. You’ll get the most excruciating detailed
story of somebody’s kidney stones, of their kid’s day at school, of their bacon shaped tattoo
they just got on their ass. (Laughter) There is absolutely no shame
about any of these things. But when it comes to mental illness, we don’t talk about it. We maintain our silence so protectively, and when we look at the world
of illness in general, we create and lift up, rightfully, champions of people
who battle with cancer or who battle with chronic illness, and we log their achievements
at living every day, with having to overcome
something that large. But we don’t do that with people who suffer
with depression or anxiety, and that is not okay with me. I’m here because it makes me angry. It makes me angry that we,
as a society, have made this not okay. We’ve made it something to fear,
to be ashamed of, to hide. The stigma we’ve created is because, collectively, we developed
negative perceptions about what mental illness is. And the stigma is exacerbated
when we keep hiding it, and when we don’t talk about it. And the reason that this matters to me
so deeply and personally is because that story I told you
at the beginning, of the woman at the
Midwestern college campus on the floor of that shower, that was me. Almost 19 years ago to the day, in fact, which I think is rather prescient,
being here on the TEDx stage. That was me! And I care about that
because I’ve spent many years knowing what that judgment feels like. I know what it’s like when you finally
decide you’re going to open up about this. And you start talking to people. They can almost taste the crazy. Because they sort of take a step back, like you’re going to explode
into some crazy-person rage, or worse, that they’re going to shake your hand,
and you can actually catch the crazy. I promise I am not contagious. But it truly is really interesting
to watch that interaction. Because for whose of you who don’t suffer, life with depression and anxiety is weird. I think I mentioned
that word before, it’s really weird. And I got the double
bonus package of both. So I’ve lived with depression, and I still live today
with generalized anxiety disorder. There’s something really
interesting about waking up, and the world is grey … and “staticky.” And you don’t much care
what’s happening around you. The best word I have for it is “numb.” And the dichotomy of anxiety
is that this room, once upon a time, would have been my biggest fear. Because you are all strangers
that I don’t know, that could judge me at any moment
for the things that I suffer from that are not within my control. So transcending these illnesses is really more than just treating the symptoms. We have to talk about it. Mental illness wins when we allow it to stay in the shadows. It wins when we refuse
to shine a light on those places and make it okay for people to share
what they’re going through. And I have to tell you, when it comes to sharing,
I know of judgment. Because it’s not just the
“I’m going to catch your crazy.” I am astounded by the very well-meaning people who have really great advice for me. So when you start sharing
about things like, “Yes, I’ve suffered
with depression since I was 18,” they go, “Do you know what you need?” (Laughter) “You need a Hugh Grant movie
and to put on your pajamas, and you need to eat a pint
of Cherry Garcia ice cream, and you’ll feel better in no time.” Or “put some lavender oil on your pillows”
or “put some incense out in the house,” or “go take a walk”
or “run” or “cuddle with your dog,” as if these things
are switches we can flip. One of the biggest fallacies
about mental illness is that it’s something
that can actually just be changed with an attitude adjustment. My anxiety is my favorite
because I get people saying, “Oh honey, I had a bad day too. The printer jammed, and my boss was an ass,
and I know all about being anxious because, gee, I get nervous
when I do things too.” And I want to say, “Did you spend four days in your house because you didn’t have the mental
fortitude to leave, take a shower, or do anything but cry
on the floor of your kitchen? I didn’t think so.” So as well-meaning as that advice is,
there’s only one way to combat it. And that’s through education. And education in books,
libraries, and science is fantastic. The medical community
is making gigantic strides towards understanding mental illness
and treating mental illness. I am still treated today through medication and a combination
of therapy, that works for me. So I’m amazed at the progress
that we’ve made in the 20 years since
I’ve been dealing with this. But what we still haven’t conquered is the stigma. And we must! If we’re ever going to break out of the idea that mental illness
is the fault of the people who have it, we’re going to do it by talking, by sharing our stories with one another. I know there’s people in this room
that, right now, are looking at me, saying, “That’s me. I’m her.” And to those of you
who are living with this, and those who love people
who are living with this, you are courageous. And we need you to keep fighting. To those of you who have miraculously
never been touched by mental illness – and I’m going to guess
that that’s no one in this room – we need your voices. We need you to fight with us because we cannot do this alone. This is a prevalent disease, and by disease I mean
all of those diseases. Hundreds of millions
of people, every year, are diagnosed with some
form of mental illness. A fraction of them get treatment, a tiny fraction. So many of them drown in their illness, slipping quietly away, and we never know. And, tragically, we lose one person
every 40 seconds to suicide, largely because they’ve never gotten
treatment for the mental illness that took them. The number one reason people
cite for not getting treatment is stigma. We are so afraid of what
people are going to think, what they’re going to say, and how they’re going to judge us
that we don’t talk. I do a lot of work in social media. My day job keeps me on the internet
more than most people. Sometimes I actually work. And if social media has taught me
anything in all these years, it’s that everyone can have a voice. Everyone does have a voice, a powerful one. And we can absolutely shatter the stereotypes that we have built
around mental illness by opening up about them. We can right the wrongs
that we’ve already created. We can rise up against the things
that threaten us, that frighten us. We together can make
an enormous difference in the lives of people that suffer, simply by being willing to do this, and stand up there bravely
and give an identity to our illness. One of the things that terrified me
when I was diagnosed was that being diagnosed
meant it was real; it meant that I actually had this disease. And the symptoms of things like depression
and anxiety are really generic. You don’t sleep, you have nightmares,
you feel kind of lousy all the time. And it’s really easy to sort of say,
“I don’t have this. This isn’t real.” But diagnosing it and talking
about it makes it not only real, but it makes it accessible. And it makes it something that people
will be less frightened to talk about, less frightened to see in other people. So if I had the opportunity
to go back today and talk to that 19-year-old woman
on the floor of her shower, I’d tell her a few very important things. One is that I’d tell her that I love her, and that I will fight for her. I will tell her that she is not alone, and that there are people around her
that want to help her very much, but that they have no idea
how much she is hurting. I would tell her that there’s more
to life than your disease. You are not owned by it;
you are not defined by it. And that there is help. I would tell her that it’s okay to talk, to ask, to be afraid. I would tell her it’s not okay for her to sit there
and believe that she is worthless. When we go through
these things ourselves, it’s really difficult
to step outside of it and say, “I might have done
something differently.” But I would tell that girl, today,
that she needed to speak up, even if her voice shakes. Whether or not that’s transcendence, I couldn’t tell you. I think it’s a sort of crooked,
uncomfortable acceptance that you come to terms with over time, but never alone. So I’m here today to ask all of you
to use your voices too. To stand up and talk with, for, and about
the people that you know and love that suffer from mental illness. And if you are that person,
you are not alone. And we need your voice. Because the danger in all of this
is not in exposing our fear or our shame or our struggle, the danger instead
is in keeping our silence. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers) Host: Thank you, Amber. Amber, before you go – (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) We honor your courage. (Applause) (Laughter) I just want to say before I let you go
that we are so happy that you ditched the PowerPoint, and you ditched the video – AN: No offense to anybody
who have PowerPoints. Host: Not at all! But there are some stories
that are so authentic and best told in the way that you did,
so thank you so much. AN: Thank you so much. (Applause)


  • Reply E. Napoletano November 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    A courageous talk and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for finding the strength to say what you have…and for finding the strength to love yourself and fight for yourself.

  • Reply EurekaJanet November 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Amber, you're fighting a good fight…educating others is the key. The best education we can get/give is from personal experience. Currently I'm developing a program for comorbid diseases…such as alcoholism & depression, alcoholism & bipolar (me), or, well, any addictive self-medication conjoined with a mental illness. By using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy–CBT–I'm able to disseminate info with strength & love. And, selfishly, being an advocate is the best med I've ever taken~! *Cheers to YOU

  • Reply Michael Witham November 19, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Here's my story: Ignite Phoenix #10 – Pariahs Among Us (on YouTube)

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    We are not alone.

  • Reply Gordon Diver November 20, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Great job Amber.

  • Reply Jack C Crawford November 26, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    I feel that I have really come to know you well. I applaud your courage … yet I did not detect one moment of fear during your talk. Thank you for speaking up.

  • Reply NZ December 2, 2012 at 8:08 am

    I loved your talk!

  • Reply Heather Coleman December 3, 2012 at 12:05 am

    This was an amazingly powerful talk! Thank you Amber, for sharing your very personal and real story. It is certainly one I can relate to. It reminds me that I need to get back to using my voice even more to help combat the stigma that still remains. Well done.

  • Reply Corinna West December 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    It was a good talk, but it was only one side of the story. Psychiatry helps some hurts many others. Research shows the approach suggested here, "love the meds and labels," actually worsens stigma. This is because then both diagnosed person and community feel the difference is permanent and not just temporary emotional distress. Am J Psychiatry 2010;167:1321-1330.

    A better approach is to normalize resilience and increase social inclusion, to let people know everyone goes through adversity.

  • Reply Corinna West December 5, 2012 at 3:56 am

    I think my comment may have been deleted about medical harm being a big cause of stigma. Does TEDx censor respectful comments that simply disagree with the video's message? People "coming out" about their diagnoses may actually increase stigma as shown by various research. This is because the current genetic understanding of mental health diagnoses often points to a permanent rather than temporary situation.

  • Reply Corinna West December 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Yes, I did find where my comment had been deleted. I am not sure how it didn't fit the criteria of open, respectful, dialogue? It basically said that people who experienced "help" from psychiatric care are only one side of the story. When we also share stories of people harmed by psychiatric care, it will actually REDUCE "stigma" by creating an open, trustable message. Like kids who take DARE might say, "Well, if they just told one side of the cannabis story, what else didn't they tell me?"

  • Reply denepher smith January 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Thanks Amber, behalf of people I love.

  • Reply calin4thewin April 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    It's surprising to me, how depression, anxiety and suicide are more of a problem in modern, "civilized" societies, than places like Africa, South America, etc.

    Goes to show that we may have the technology, we can teach people maths and grammar, but are lagging and lacking in terms of healthy social integration and functional traditions that actually make people feel confident and accepted within their group.

    Especially in the US, pill popping heaven.

  • Reply calin4thewin April 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    On a more direct note, this is one of the most useless TED Talks I've ever seen. She's unfunny, uninteresting, very uninformative, and I've learned nothing new from watching this. Should have done a talk on what she actually knows about (professionally) or stayed home.

  • Reply anne gibson April 26, 2013 at 1:17 am

    I recommend spending some time in a part of the world outside of the USA. This is a video which is very much First World white woman needs more attention, enough is never enough. There is a need to know you are nothing special, you are just part of this world passing through, keep your head clear and stop thinking too much. Too much going on inyour head. Sending you light and love.

  • Reply Debbie Webb May 27, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    I think a big part of the problem is people have been misguided into believing we all must fit a certain mold with regard to our personality. Those who have not, or deny having had mental health issues in the past seem to believe that they fit the perfect mold and tend to look down upon the less fortunate. Unrealistic expectations and dependence on others are some of the biggest causes of mental illness in my experience.

  • Reply lisaengelbrektson June 7, 2013 at 9:00 pm


  • Reply lisaengelbrektson June 7, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Stigma is exacerbated when we hide it; internalize this and it grows in us, we who hide our depression and anxiety to be accepted.

  • Reply Raine Carosin August 10, 2013 at 1:40 am

    The internet helped me to expose my mental illness to people without having to face a crowd and share some of my experiences. Unfortunately, my "expose" book needed money to be published (what doesn't these days) and so I remain reigned to the government and family for support. But these talks are good… Glad I found them, coz I starve for talking company… Not everyone wants to discuss "the voices in my head"… anyways, glad someone started the communication ball rolling :-}

  • Reply cali4tune August 13, 2013 at 1:06 am

    I wonder if any of this has to do with women moving into areas of society that they have never been in before. I wonder if women trying to live in a mans world is just too much for many. The stress of university and work are great.

  • Reply Viktor Maximilian Distaturus Freiherr December 23, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    maybe we should start to find new words for different nuances of illness.
    like "mental cold",  goes away with social warmth, relaxation & thinking in bed.

  • Reply Karl Parker April 9, 2014 at 5:04 am


  • Reply Karl Parker April 9, 2014 at 5:05 am


  • Reply Shahed Sabir April 21, 2014 at 7:00 am

    My eyes welled……

  • Reply Hal Mathew August 27, 2014 at 1:25 am

    Thank you Amber. I suffered from panic disorder and agoraphobia for 30 years before I overcame it. One of the worst things about being stuck in anxiety is that there are people, some of whom have posted here, who do not understand others' pain, lack compassion and make talking about one's mental illness risky. Who wants to hear the taunts of the, shall we say, conservative side. I've started a blog devoted to becoming unagoraphobic. Hope to see you there. Keep up the bold, brave work. I love your anger. Best wishes, Hal

  • Reply mike k March 25, 2015 at 4:27 am

    all i tell people is i'm not a bitch

  • Reply Joel Fry August 16, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Thank you for posting this video.  It was helpful for me.

  • Reply Anuradha Malhotra August 22, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    indeed courageous… Thanks for such a brave attempt…

  • Reply Diane Dunn January 29, 2016 at 1:28 am

    not only the fault but that they have lower mental ability and need to be treated as such and so sink into lower

  • Reply Diane Dunn January 29, 2016 at 1:32 am

    I was amazed and happy to see a psychiatrist years ago that said when he wnt to the mental hospital that when he treated the people with respect they were as sane as anyone else Take note of what you said to yourself on the floor

  • Reply judi devoe February 2, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I do not see strides in medicine. As she points out, if there had been strides, then beating depression today would be as revered as beating cancer for the day. It's not! And it's more than stigma, it's the fact that providers do not work with patients, they tell! They load them up with meds that impale functioning. Which is scarier, depression or being drugged into unconsciousness and numbness?

  • Reply judi devoe February 2, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you for spreading the word. It's not contagious.

  • Reply Daniel Barone June 4, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Maybe your "crazy uncle" suffers from mental illness? #irony

  • Reply Joyful Vegan October 17, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Thank you for all your efforts to share your story and encourage dialogue about this very real disease that affects every aspect of one's life.

  • Reply FAILология January 29, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    You're right Amber

  • Reply gloria Baldoni November 20, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing i couldn't agree more

  • Reply Berkies Sepulveda July 1, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    I hate the stigma. I rather get help from a doctor and take medications. I stay away from those who demonized me. I have my family and the God of my understanding. Thank you for sharing your story. God bless you and namaste.

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