‘How to save your own life’

Watch Professor Vikas Shah MBE deliver his TEDx Manchester Talk here:

I’m new to TED talks and watching Professor Vikas Shah MBE deliver his was my first real experience. For me, his words are most definitely an ‘idea worth spreading’ but they also deliver an important message that is so very relevant to all across our communities. Through his openness, honesty, reflection and insight, Vikas successfully conveys a number of key concepts which underpin the vitally important issue of mental health.

First and foremost, throughout his talk there is a clear and proper differentiation between the concept of ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’. It is clear, that as with physical health, we all need to take steps to look after and protect our mental health. Key life skills including empathy, appreciation, gratitude and reflection, which all support positive mental health and wellbeing, are highlighted in an incredibly meaningful way.

When it comes to mental illness and the impact this has had on his life, Vikas clearly describes how his anxiety disorder and depression developed and manifested over the course of time. Looking back over his journey, it’s apparent that a number of life events occurred which pre-disposed him to developing a mental health problem. Through no fault of his own, as the signs of illness started to develop, a lack of awareness and understanding meant that he did not know it was important to prioritise himself, act and seek support.

Over time, intermittent anxious thoughts developed into an overwhelming and inescapable state of fear and torment. A devastating pathway of progression. At a point of crisis, when a deep internal lack of self-worth and a desire to escape were all consuming, Vikas was able to draw on inner strength, emotional intelligence and resilience he did not know he had. Thankfully he was able to reach out and tell someone what he was experiencing. The phone call he made at that car park created a safe space which enabled him to recognise and accept that seeking support was the necessary way forward.

When discussing his treatment, Vikas highlights beautifully the multi-dimensional approach that is often required to treat acute and chronic mental illness. As with any other health related problem, after careful medical assessment, consideration was given to the most appropriate evidenced based management plan. A decision was made to commence medication and engage in appropriate talking therapies. In my experience, both these treatment interventions are important when it comes to treating mental illness, supporting recovery and preventing relapse. As is the case for many people who experience mental health problems, the positive emotional and practical day to day support provided by health and / or social care professionals, loved ones at home, and colleagues at work will have undoubtedly had a significant and positive impact.

Throughout my medical career I have worked with many patients who have experienced acute and chronic mental illness. What I have grown to realise is that, unfortunately, Vikas is not alone. More often than not the features of mental illness are evident for significant periods of time, and they remain undetected until a person presents to mental health services at a point of crisis. As a consequence of poor levels of understanding and education across our communities, the opportunity to detect mental illness in its early stages is limited. The longer things are left, the worse they can become.

I believe what Vikas has done in delivering this TEDx Manchester talk is inspirational. His gift of sharing is amazing and truly significant because it demonstrates the vital need to educate across our communities and support those in need. It’s essential to ensure clear and consistent messages regarding mental health and mental illness reach everyone.

My own professional experience has driven me to divert my skillset from acute mental health services to support the frontlines of our communities. I passionately believe that through providing expert-led training to support those working in education, sport and all workplaces, real and positive differences can be made. Through providing relevant and appropriate information and guidance, we can empower people to protect their own mental health, promote positive mental health and wellbeing, recognise signs of mental health problems sooner rather than later, intervene early and effectively signpost those in need of support.

If we can understand how to look after ourselves, we can look after others. This community wide issue requires a community wide approach and through working together as a team, we can reduce the burden and impact of severe and enduring mental illness to ensure brighter and more positive futures.

Dr Libby Artingstall

Co-Founder & Director Team Mental Health

Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist