The fifth annual TEDxToronto conference, themed The Choices We Make, was held last Thursday at the Royal Conservatory of Music. The mix included innovators like U of T’s own Director of Urban Design, Rodolphe el-Khoury, who showcased IM BLANKY (a blanket that monitors your sleep habits) and U of T Professor Steve Mann, who has been wearing computers since before it was cool (or even a popular concept, since he is considered the ‘father of wearable computing’).
Other highlights of the day included Dr. Ivar Mendez and his robot-physician which allowed him and the audience to live-stream into a hospital in Nain, Labrador and old-school food preserving guru, Joel MacCharles, whose blog Well Preserved teaches you the kind of food tricks and preserving techniques your grandparents used back in the day.
It was my second time attending the Toronto version of the conference and I was surprised, as it hadn’t been noticeably prominent last year, by the number of speakers who chose to discuss their complex relationship with mental health during their TED talk. More power to them, quite frankly, given the stigma that is often attached to mental health disorders.
Clinical social worker Debbie Berlin-Romalis recently disclosed her eating disorder to colleagues at The Hospital for Sick Children and was amazed at the number of them that confided to her that they had similar disorders. In her TED talk, she emphasized that,
“Honesty is contagious. We inherently want to share but what holds us back is fear and shame.”
Award-winning Canadian musician Matthew Good discussed his bipolar disorder, which had been diagnosed later in his life. While he mentioned that music had been also influential in his life, he made clear that creativity and mental health disorders are far from co-morbid. Most importantly, he said that creative processes can be difficult to distinguish from mental health disorders, a blurred line that can make it hard to figure out when to seek help.
One of the talks that had the most resonance with the audience was Mark Hennick‘s talk Why We Choose Suicide on how his early suicide attempts informed his work as a case manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association. He recognized how a “contraction of your perception” can overwhelm you during depression and that,
“if I knew then what I know now, it probably wouldn’t change much… sometimes it’s not what you know, [because] what you feel takes over.”
He encouraged those in the audience to do two things:
- Stop saying “commit suicide” as if it is more a criminal issue than a health one. He noted that no one has “committed suicide” since the early 1970s, when suicide was decriminalized in Canada.
- “If you’re thinking about suicide, keep thinking about it. And then talking about it. And then doing something about it,” was Mark’s other piece of advice. By changing the way we think about suicide, we can effect change, he urged. For those contemplating suicide, he asked them to be leaders in this important conversation.
Indeed, these talks were timely as World Mental Health Day is on October 10th. U of T’s Health and Wellness department has introduced the Blue Space campaign this month to provide positive space for conversations about mental health and well-being.
Though there is a long way to come, as recently documented by The Varsity, in the mental health support U of T is able to provide to its students, creating safe spaces for conversations about mental health is one such support we can provide those in our diverse communities. Talking about mental health openly and honestly is one choice we can all choose to make.