15 Of The Best Health TED Talks To Better Understand Chronic Pain

ted talks on health

TED Talks, which stands for technology, entertainment, and design, began back in 1984. Today almost every topic has been covered by experts in various fields in these short lectures. The mission is to spread information and TED has been successful. Talk to just about anyone and they have likely been affected by a TED talk. Plenty of health TED talks are available to view online. We thought we would round up the best health TED talks that can help you learn more about pain along with the mental health concerns that afflict so many pain patients.

1. Elliot Krane “The mystery of chronic pain”

Because of the relevance to our own field of study, Krane’s discussion on the mystery of chronic pain is fascinating and hopeful. He discussed the way that pain, once it crosses the threshold of simply being a symptom, becomes its own disease.

He describes how the nervous system works in healthy patients and how it malfunctions in chronic pain patients. Krane is hopeful for a future where new treatments will get to the heart of the problem and rather than treating the symptoms actually modify the neural pathways. He leaves us with the George Carlin quote, “My philosophy? No pain, no pain!”

2. Emily Balcitas “Why some people find exercise harder than others”

Balcitas’ discussion about how perception affects the way we interact with the world is absolutely fascinating. As each of us views the world through our own unique mind’s eye, our experiences are entirely subjective.

This is why exercise is actually harder for some people than others. People who are unmotivated actually view the task as much more difficult. They literally see a finish line as farther away. So she developed the “Eyes on the Prize” technique as something beyond a feel good slogan. It is an actual directive. When people shifted their focus they were 25% faster and experienced 17% exertion for the same task they found difficult before. This is proof that if we change the way we perceive things we can make real progress with the way we interact with the world.

3. JD Schramm “Break the silence for suicide attempt survivors”

In this very short TED talk, survivor JD Schramm shares his own story about his failed suicide attempt. While brief, the discussion is frank and personal. Nineteen out of every 20 suicide attempts fail but studies show that this demographic will likely try again and succeed.

His concern is the lack of resources for survivors to put their lives back together physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He encourages us to speak out and speak with one another about depression and suicide.

4. Kevin Briggs “The bridge between suicide and life”

From an opposite perspective, former Highway Patrol sergeant Kevin Briggs offers stories from his time as the responding officer on the Golden Gate Bridge. When it was built, the bridge was called “practically suicide proof,” but since that time over 1,600 people have jumped. When his career began, Briggs said there was no formal training for police officers responding to suicides on the bridge. This was a systemic problem for both the officers and the individuals in need of their help.

While Briggs responded to many suicide attempts on the bridge, he only lost two. They were two too many. There is always collateral damage and dealing with these suicides was difficult for him as well as their families. The suicides he prevented often came down to one thing: someone who listened. Very few people survive a jump from the bridge. Those that do all said that in the moments after they leapt, they realized they wanted to live.

5. Siddharthan Chandran “Can the damaged brain repair itself?

English neurologist tackled the heavy subject of various untreatable and devastating neurological diseases. While he described the current situation and medical science’s inability to cure or reverse them he also offered hope for the future.

6. Kevin Breel, “Confessions of a depressed comic”

In this TED Talk, standup comedian Kevin Breel talks about his struggle with depression. He describes how he lived two very distinct lives: the one everyone saw and the one inside his own head. He discusses the misconceptions about depression. It isn’t just sadness. Sadness is normal and everyone feels it in their lives. Depression is sadness when everything else in life is going well.

Depression, as Breel says, is a real problem because no one is willing to talk about it. People don’t post about it on social media. No one would look at him and see a troubled, suicidal kid. As he dealt with the impact of his depression, he felt that he was living two totally different lives where one person was literally afraid of the other. He feared that vulnerability. And ultimately, he thought there was only one way out. Eventually he found himself becoming numb to it.

There is a stigma that breeds personal embarrassment and it is that embarrassment that keeps people from getting the help they truly need. Breel accurately describes depression as one of the best documented, but least discussed problems in the world. Depression won’t fix itself so people have to be brave, speak up, and teach themselves acceptance. It is okay to be depressed. It is an issue, not an identity. Breel says that now he is grateful for his experiences. It has given him perspective. He realized that there is no light without darkness. What he needed to learn was to embrace the light without ignoring the dark. He implores viewers to stop the ignorance and the stigma surrounding depression. The only way to beat a problem, he says, is to stand strong together.

7. Janine Shepherd “A broken body isn’t a broken person”

We also love the inspirational story of this former Olympic hopeful. A freak accident on a bike during a training session left her body broken. Her back, her neck, her ribs, her arms; everything was shattered. There were multiple surgeries to put her back together but doctors warned her that life would never be the same. They were concerned about depression.

She decided to take her life back and in the face of great adversity, as her body worked against her, she did the impossible. Shepherd wouldn’t ski again, but instead she learned to fly. She decided rather than asking “Why me?” she needed to ask herself, “Why not me?”

8. Dean Ornish “Your genes are not your fate”

In this TED talk, Ornish describes the way a healthier lifestyle can influence our own genetic code. He suggested that people who eat healthier, manage stress, exercise, and love more not only regenerate lost brain cells but also grow new cells.

Living healthier can make skin remain young and even reverse heart disease. A healthier life style actually turns on good genes and turns off bad genes. Now that people have more access to genetic information they have more options to do something about it.

best health ted talks

9. Matthew O’Riley “Am I dying? The honest answer”

If you want to feel the emotional pull on your heartstrings, this sad but beautiful TED talk will do just that. O’Riley, a critical care EMT, told stories to illustrate what happened when he stopped lying to dying patients and started telling them the honest answer.

He was afraid that their last moments would be wrought with fear and anxiety but instead he found that they experienced peace and acceptance. There were three patterns to their experiences. First, they wanted forgiveness. Second, they wanted to be remembered. And third, they wanted to know that their life had meaning. This is a lesson for the living as well as the dying.

10. Andy Puddicombe “All it takes is ten mindful minutes”

Since mindfulness and meditation is a common theme among our blog posts, we would be remiss not to include this TED talk in the list. Puddicombe describes how just ten minutes of mindful meditation a day can not only calm stress but can become a preventative measure for future stress. He warns us that though our mind allows us to do so many things we rarely take the time to care for it.

We need meditation and mindfulness to recharge our mental batteries. Meditation gives us a different perception of our own thoughts and feelings and because of that we can change the way we experience our lives.

11. Eleanor Longden “The voices in my head”

One day, quite unexpectedly, Eleanor began to hear another voice in her head who narrated her daily activities. The voice was clear, neutral, and passive. When she talked to doctors about anxiety and low self-worth they were indifferent, but once she shared knowledge of her voices everything changed. She was told that normal people didn’t hear voices. She was treated as insane and diagnosed with schizophrenia and was hospitalized and dehumanized. The voice was treated as a symptom. As her medical interventions increased, the voice turned from passive to aggressive and angry. She began hallucinating and experienced delusions. She said she was drugged and discarded.

Eventually, Longden learned that the voices weren’t a disease; they were her brain’s very normal survival response to traumatic abuse that occurred throughout her life. She had to learn to deconstruct their messages and separate the metaphorical from the literal. She learned that the most important question that can be asked of someone like her was not “what’s wrong with you?” but “what’s happened to you?”

12. Lucien Engelen “Crowdsource your health”

In this short but fascinating discussion Engelen, a healthcare innovator and technologist, offers the idea of crowdsourcing our health. He describes how he uses technology and social media to give himself motivation to stay healthier.

He also demonstrates that by simply mapping the availability of life saving devices, such as defibrillators, more lives can be saved.

13. AJ Jacobs “How healthy living nearly killed me”

Author and humorist AJ Jacobs has written books about reading the entire encyclopedia to expand his knowledge. He also wrote about his journey fully exploring the religion of his ancestors. In another project, and the subject of this TED talk, he described how living for one full year as the healthiest person in the world nearly killed him.

While he took health to an unhealthy extreme, he did learn several valuable lessons including the impact of noise on bodies and ensuring there is a sense of joy in life. You can read more about his journey in the book Drop Dead Healthy.

14. Bill Davenhall “Your health depends on where you live”

Lastly, we want to leave you with this fascinating TED talk about the impact of where you live on your health. In fact, knowing the geographic history could help doctors better treat their patients. Three categories that impact health are genetics, lifestyle, and environment. And while medical professional often focus heavily on the first two, the third is largely ignored.

Simply asking about place history can impact the type of care an individual receives. It can also help people make healthier choices about where they choose to live and work. There are physicians currently being trained in geomedicine and Davenhall hopes this practice will grow and place history will be added to typical medical history questionnaires.

15. Elyn Saks “A tale of mental illness – from the inside”

In another TED health talk that breaks the silence on schizophrenia, law and psychology professor Elyn Saks discusses her experience with this illness from the inside. She shares personal readings from her own journals that describe how she felt as she was faced with the effects and treatments for this mental disorder.

Saks discusses her hospitalizations and how she was told she would never be a productive member of society. She speaks frankly about her psychotic episodes and how she would quickly find herself out of touch with reality. She had false sensory hallucinations and waking nightmares. Her head was full of noise. She talked about the pure terror of being placed in restraints in the hospital and the number of people who die in similar restraints each year.

For a time in her life she tried to avoid medical intervention. She believed, like many people, that the less medication she took the less defective she was. Eventually, she received effective treatment and changed her mind about medical care for mental illness. She found she wasn’t anti-treatment, but she was anti-force. Saks encourages people to change their perception of this disease. No one is “a schizophrenic,” they are people with schizophrenia. With more research on the condition, better treatments will be developed and now is the time to stop criminalizing the disorder. Rightfully, she suggests that the humanity we all share is more important than the mental illness we may not.

What do you think are the best health TED talks about pain, healthy living, and mental health?