TED Conversations

Arjuna Nagendran


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What experiences have made you more comfortable with mental health disorders?

What things make you fearful of mental health disorders? And what experiences have made you more comfortable with it?

In the quest to dispell stigma, how can we help our society grow out of its fear?


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    Oct 19 2012: Hello Arjuna,

    Have you ever heard of lucid dreams? Strangely, for me that was one experience that brought the very humbling realization of knowing so very little about how consciousness and the human brain work.

    Through that new lens, rather than seeing mental disorders as something very well defined (almost like an on or off switch) i now see most of them as variations in a very rich spectrum of brain configurations and states: add a few more neurons of certain kind in the frontal lobes, and now we have a brain that has less trouble planning in the distant future... lower the threshold of signal to noise in some synapses and now we have a brain that has a harder time focusing and keeping attention... listen to and analyze what your intuition tries to tell you and suddenly you can make smarter choices... let your subconscious drive all the time and suddenly you start making poorer choices...

    we all have many things in our brain that are well beyond our control, isn't that the beginning of something that could be considered a mental disorder?

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      Oct 20 2012: Hi Andreas,

      Interesting point! We do know so little about the brain - exactly HOW it does all the things it does it still very much unknown, with no sign that that is going to rapidly change! I agree that mental health disorders would sit on a spectrum ranging from the "normal" brain - evidenced by the fact that you can get very mild to very severe mental health disorders.

      The distinction I suppose is that behaviour/thought processes in mental health disorders are not beneficial, at least in the current world we live in anyway. Now, I'm sure someone can find an exception, but I think it will likely prove the broader rule that the majority of these behaviours are not helpful to the individual and their survival.
    • Nov 5 2012: Ahh, the age old question of the boundaries of mental disorders; When the diagnostics books define very well what amounts to a mental disorder but the application of those terms to human variabilities in subjective descriptions of their feelings or moods or even their veracity as a real patient can makes for some strange and tremulous brews. I knew a guy that literally faked his way out of the United States navy in the 70's, long before don't ask, dont tell, by claiming to be gay. Realizing of course that he would be given certain psychiatric exams and evaluations before a discharge was possible, he spent about a month of his free time in the library studying everything he could about homosexuality, it's mental effects, it's "symptoms" aand "co-morbidities"...the works. Then he walked into the CO's office and declared himself to be gay. Gone within two weeks. He told me he'd be glad to name me as a partner if I wanted out and I declined. I'm not gay and had less than a year of a five year enlistment to go. But his scholarship bought him a discharge and, to my knowlesge, he was straight as an arrow. Even from my hometown where I knew his family. A good brain can help rise above disorder and bring clarity in the face of apparent chaos. Unless, like me you have repeated cerebral flatulence, but I won't go there.

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