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TEDxLAUSalon V.6.0

February 19, 2014—

More than 150 attendees came together at LAU Beirut’s new student center on February 17 to take part in TEDxLAU’s sixth salon on the topic of mental health.  

“Living with any sort of mental or physical disorder isn’t easy, but the sense of shame which tends to accompany mental illness makes it much harder for the healing process to begin,” says Reine Azzi, instructor of English and moral reasoning and TEDxLAU curator. As comedian Ruby Wax says so eloquently in the third screened TED Talk of the night, “How come every other organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy, except the brain?”

According to Azzi, “the demand to attend this particular event was incredible. All tickets sold out in less than 24 hours and more than 80 people added their names to the waiting list.” In fact, one in eight people in the room opened up about either having a mental disorder, or knowing someone who does. Also, 75 percent of attendees responded that mental illness was a topic they were very much interested in bringing out to the open.

Norma Moussally, LAU senior counselor, said that the problem in Lebanon is over-diagnosing mental illness in some parts of the country or in certain schools, for example, while completely ignoring the signs and stigmatizing the disease in others. This is why more awareness is necessary, and where it should be directed. IDRAAC, a non-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to mental health in Lebanon and the Arab world, was present at the event to promote its ongoing campaign and share the findings with attendees. There was a general consensus on the need to analyze the nervous system and the reasons behind the disorder rather than just focusing on the disorder itself in order to end the stigma.

Organizers at TEDxLAU promised participants a post-event initiative in order to further promote the topic. “After all, mental disease is not the totality of who a person might be. If one suffers from a heart attack, it doesn’t label him/her for life. A similar approach to avoid the labels and categorization needs to be underway when it comes to our mental health. We are so much more than our disease,” Azzi concludes.

TED Talks screened at the event were:

Joshua Walters: On being just crazy enough
Jon Ronson: Strange answers to the psychopath test
Ruby Wax: What’s so funny about mental illness?
Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head

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Discussions revolved around whether we can categorize or label individuals as having mental disorders, the effectiveness of certain checklists which could mislead rather than assist at certain times, and the need to be more aware of a patient’s background when tackling mental disease and disorder.

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After the event, attendees had the opportunity to experience the therapy couch as they held statements inspired by certain tenants or principles in psychology.

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Attendees were asked to complete the following statement: Living with… A board was set up for attendees to share their feelings in an open and accepting forum. Parental influence, regret, and even specific disorders like depression or having bipolar disorder were listed.

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An audience favorite, this talk resonated with many as Wax hilariously explained the evolutionary capacity of the brain and its inability to always cope with the demands of our modern lives.

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The stage was designed to include a “talking therapy” corner, complete with portraits of the founding fathers of psychology. Here, TEDxLAU organizers take on the role of the psychiatrist intently listening as the patient discusses her mental distress.

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At the registration area, organizers responsible for registration, social media, and logistics pose during one of the brief minutes they had to themselves before the event started.

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Last year’s successful campaign by IDRAAC featured well-known Lebanese personalities with accurate statements of the current state of mental health in Lebanon and the Middle East. This was promoted during the event in addition to other publications.

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