Big Thinkers on Mental Health

Sponsored by the Mental Health Channel


You’re Wired for Anxiety. And You’re Wired to Handle It.

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


In our first video in the series, Dr. Anne Marie Albano, director of Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, traces the biological and evolutionary origins of anxiety, the unique features of anxiety in the 21st century, and the powerful research and tech-driven treatments that have emerged in recent decades.

You've Heard of OCD, but Do You Really Understand It?

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


In the second video in the series, Dr. Helen Blair Simpson, director of the Center for Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders at Columbia University, paints a vivid portrait of the many different versions of OCD. Even though it's a well-known anxiety disorder, OCD is also one of the most misunderstood, so it's important to educate ourselves on what our peers who suffer from it are going through. Dr. Simpson runs through variations of OCD, offers some extreme examples from her patients, and details what we've learned from brain scans of OCD sufferers.

The Suicide Rate is Going Up. Here’s What We Can Do to Stop It.

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


In the third video in the series, Dr. Christine Moutier of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests several of the ways society can combat the rising suicide trend. Did you know white, middle-aged men are most at risk? What would it be like if mentally ill people got the treatment they needed before taking their lives? How would things be different if our opinions on suicidal tendencies changed overnight?

The Kids Are Not All Right: College Mental Health Needs an Intervention

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


In the fourth video in the series, Dr. Victor Schwartz of The Jed Foundation runs through some staggering stats about mental health in college. University students are, in general, a very stressed-out demographic. Factor in things like alcohol abuse, homesickness, and elevated risk for sexual assault, and you've got quite the cocktail for mental health issues. Does the typical college student, asks Schwartz, really understand the sort of care options available to her? One of the major challenges of college mental health care is encouraging students to step forward when they are depressed or suffering from anxiety. It's in everyone's best interest for mental health to be a big priority. The trick is to remove the stigma from the process.

When It Comes to Eating Disorders, "You Have the Bullet, The Culture Shoots the Gun"

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


There aren't many people on this planet who know more about eating disorders than psychologist Dr. Judith Brisman, founder of the Eating Disorder Resource Center. In this video, she offers a crash course in understanding the difference between someone who eats disorderly and someone with an eating disorder. We also learn that, deep down, people with anorexia use eating (or not eating) as a coping mechanism.

Finally, Brisman runs through some typical traits of those with anorexia: perfectionism, genetic disposition, and susceptibility to the pressures of society. Most of all, anorexia offers the illusion of control. When you're unable to control other parts of your life, losing weight by not eating seems like a major accomplishment because it was a (dangerous) decision made of your own volition.

It’s a Small, Small World: PTSD as Self-Imprisonment.

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


Dr. Rachel Yehuda is one of the foremost researchers in the country studying neurobiology with regard to PTSD. In this video interview, Dr. Yehuda relays common symptoms and struggles associated with the debilitating disorder. Where does one's brain go when traumatic flashbacks emerge? How do you fight these uncomfortable situations? Dr. Yehuda delves into these and other questions.

Black Mental Health Isn't the Same as White Mental Health

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to present Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


You can't have a frank discussion about mental health within the African-American community without confronting issues related to social trauma. Uncomfortable (and sometimes dangerous) encounters with a distrusted police force. Drugs and crime infesting a neighborhood. The institutional scars of slavery and segregation. These are all issues our contemporary black population must deal with each and every day.

Dr. Michael Lindsey of NYU's Silver School of Social Work sees signs of debilitating trauma throughout black America. He points to two key reasons for this. First, mental illness is unfairly stigmatized in these communities, just as it is throughout American culture. Second, cultural definitions of strength and courage are dictated by efforts to work against institutional ills such as discrimination. How one reacts to these ills, coupled with the community's response to said reaction, adds a lot of tension other Americans don't necessarily have to deal with.

Finally, Lindsey speaks to the value placed on authenticity, a major reason why many sufferers in the black community internalize their strife rather than share it with the outside world.

Bipolar Disorder Is Like Having Two Serious Illnesses at Once

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to present Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


This week, psychiatrist Nicole Foubister delves into the world of bipolar disorder. Most people are casually familiar with bipolar disorder, although few understand the colossal strain it can have on the lives of sufferers and their loved ones. It's vital for people diagnosed as bipolar to open themselves up to treatment and for people close to them to be aware of the illness' ramifications. What's most important is to understand that no one chooses to be bipolar; you must learn to be calm and patient with people who suffer from it. It's not their fault that they lack mental wellness and their behavior during manic episodes is not reflective of who they really are.

Media Sell the Mentally Ill as Violent Criminals. Truth Is, They’re Not.

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


In this video, Columbia University forensic psychiatrist Michael Stone dispels common myths about the intersection of violent acts and mental health disorders. He addresses the question of whether people with schizophrenia are more likely to commit violent crimes and how much danger they present to society at large. The answer? Not as much as you'd imagine, given the sensationalism of mainstream media coverage.

How Not to Be a Slave to Your Brain: Mindfulness for Mental Health

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


One of the classic definitions of mindfulness is that it helps us avoid clinging to what is pleasant and condemning what is unpleasant. In this video, psychiatrist Mark Epstein relays information about the practice of mindful meditation and its many mental health benefits.

Why Are Our Funniest People Also the Saddest?

Comedians are more likely to have mental health issues than the rest of us. Is it in their nature? Or their environment? And what can they do to help the rest of us improve our own mental health? Dr. Ildiko Tabori, America's foremost therapist for comedians, explains.

Is There A Psychopath Next Door? They’re More Common Than You Think

Every day you're likely to meet a psychopath. Dr. James Fallon of UC Irvine explains what a psychopath is, how they work, and what they want from you -- and he ought to know (but you'll have to watch to find out why).

6 Things You Need To Get Right About Depression

Depression is very common, affecting one in five people — if not you, then a friend or family member. This makes a basic knowledge of the disorder vital for everyone. Dr. Patricia Deldin of the University of Michigan Depression Center debunks misperceptions to encourage a better understanding.

How Childhood Trauma Can Make You A Sick Adult

The Adverse Childhood Study found that survivors of childhood trauma are up to 5,000 percent more likely to attempt suicide, have eating disorders, or become IV drug users. Dr. Vincent Felitti, the study's founder, details this remarkable and powerful connection.

For LGBT People, Discrimination Still Brings Mental Health Challenges.

It wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder. The recency of that decision still affects the LGBT community today. It opens the door to discrimination. Discrimination contributes to higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Dr. James Dilley of the Alliance Health Project discusses its effects, and the impact that a continued shift toward acceptance can have.

The First Things To Do When You Or Someone You Love Is In Crisis

What should you do when a mental health crisis strikes? Dr. Ken Duckworth of the National Alliance on Mental Illness reveals how understanding the patterns of one's illness and creating an action plan can help individuals and families manage – and even prevent – a crisis.

Mostly, We Respond to Tragedies in Ways That Don’t Really Help

What’s the best way to help after a natural disaster or school shooting? Mass tragedies can take many forms, but in all cases, extreme needs follow. Dr. Will Marling of the National Organization for Victim Assistance shares insight on how to provide support.

Hearing Voices and Paranoid Delusions: Inside a Schizophrenic Brain

Now and then, we've all thought we heard someone calling our name, or noticed a strange coincidence. But for people with schizophrenia, these can take on a much more nefarious quality. Dr. Vikaas Sohal walks us through what it feels like to be inside a schizophrenic brain.

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Too often the concept of a circular economy is muddled up with some kind of advanced recycling process that would mean keeping our industrial system as it is and preserving a growing consumption model.


This idea is based on a belief that recycling will take care of everything.

One of the most startling examples of this is the part of the European Union's Circular Economy Action Plan which aims to increase recycling rates: up to 70% of all packaging waste by 2030 and 65% of all municipal waste by 2035. In a properly built circular economy, one should rather focus on avoiding the recycling stage at all costs. It may sound straightforward, but preventing waste from being created in the first place is the only realistic strategy.

While we obviously need to continue recycling for quite some time, putting the emphasis on genuine circular innovations – that is, moving us away from a waste-based model – should be our sole objective.

Recycling is linear

In a linear economy, we do not account for the side-effects generated by a product once sold to an end customer. The aim is to sell a maximum number of products at minimal cost. Continuous pressure to reduce costs leads to the creation of many of these side-effects – called externalities by economists. The higher a company's rate of production and the higher its efficiency, the more successful it will be at selling its goods in a fiercely competitive environment.


What is a circular economy?

This worked well in the 20th century when resources were easily available and raw material prices kept decreasing. Waste, as an economic externality, was not the producers' responsibility. Managing waste cycles, dumping it out of sight or, at best, recycling it – but only when it was cost-effective – were under the control of our national institutions.

Visionary manufacturers, who understand the upcoming challenges of increasing their economic resilience, know better: a product that is returned for repair will cost less to fix and sell again, than manufacturing it from scratch.

In our current model, we extract resources, transform them into products, and consume or use them, prior to disposing of them. Recycling only starts at the throwing-away stage: this is a process that is not made to preserve or increase value nor to enhance materials.

We need to understand that recycling is not an effective strategy for dealing with unused resource volumes in a growth model. We will find ourselves in a never-ending pursuit of continuously generated waste, rather than seeing the avoidance of waste as a path to beneficial innovations on many levels.

Of course, it is easier to think about recycling. This avoids changing the whole of our volume-based production model. But in a world where we have to shift our consumption patterns and use less energy, recycling no longer has all the answers.

Recycling is 'business-as-usual'

Since we cannot stop the volume of waste overnight, investments in the recycling industry are needed. But truly meaningful investment in developing a circular economy takes place outside of the recycling space. Indeed, the more we recycle and the more we finance recycling factories, the more we stay 'linear'. We mistakenly believe this is the best route to solve our problems - but by staying in a recycling-based economy, we will delay the transition to an advanced circular economy.

In a circular economy, resources do not end up as recyclables since products are made to last several lifecycles. Products' lifespans are extended via maintain, repair, redistribute, refurbishment and/or re-manufacture loops, thus they never end up in the low-value, high-need-for-energy loop: recycling.

We live in a world in dire need of disruptive innovations. Closing loops next to where customers live while avoiding waste is a short and longer-term win-win for any leading re-manufacturer. Short-term because you are in direct contact with your customers, and taking back a product that needs maintenance is an opportunity to better understand their needs and help them with additional services. Long-term because you will lower your exposure to future financial risks. Any of the feedback loops that exist prior to the recycling loop are an opportunity to take back control over your stock of resources – taking control away from the raw material markets, which may become highly volatile. Increased interactions with your customers, both commercial and financial, and an in-depth understanding of their needs, would increase customer loyalty and a business' overall resilience.

Re-using, re-distributing and/or remanufacturing strategies are the preferred approaches in a circular economy, as they are based on parts durability. Caring for and preserving the value of product components increases corporate economic resilience, while diminishing external market risks. Whether you are acting in a highly advanced or a developing economy, these strategies make crystal-clear sense: they are less costly in the long-run because repairing a product made to last is always less expensive than producing it from scratch.

Leapfrogging into valued supply chains

Following this approach, we must move away from activities that devalue the material, such as recycling, and instead invest in those activities that preserve it: reuse and remanufacture. These two are especially important since they create many more secure jobs. Walter R. Stahel, the godfather of the modern circular economy, introduced the metric of labor input-per-weight ratio (man-hour-per-kg, or mh/kg) to measure job creation in relation to resource consumption. He found that the ratio of mh/kg when building a remanufactured engine from used resources compared to making the same engine from virgin materials is 270:1. The impact on employment is huge.

The re-localization and the re-sizing of activities closer to customers become critical. Production sites should migrate from a highly centralized global hub to units designed to fulfill local needs. In developed markets, a possible plan could be to develop strategic partnerships with local service providers, who can provide the infrastructure. In emerging markets, where there is often an urgent need for jobs, leapfrogging straight into a national re-manufacturing strategy is the way forward. Becoming the next 'world factory' hub is an obsolete vision today.

One way to start thinking like a leader in the next economy while creating jobs could be in order of priority:

  • Reuse by repairing (goods) through re-hiring (people), while sharing the radical benefits (awareness) of such a model
  • Redistribute by promoting access (goods) through collaboration (people), while sharing information (awareness) about this model
  • Remanufacture via the ease of disassembly (goods) by training (people), while sharing the acquired knowledge (awareness) through this model
  • Migration of recycling activities by diverting (goods) to service models, transferring skills (people) to remanufacturing processes (awareness).

All of the above make sense in a world where planetary limits have already hit most economies.

Adopting a circular strategy by avoiding reliance on recycling is the way forward.

This is about genuine innovation derived from genuine leadership.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

  • It's easy to stumble down a rabbit hole when we consider the action beneficial like checking emails, stock prices, or sports scores.
  • However, if these seemingly beneficial actions take the place of something else we intended to do, they're just distractions. And we've been moved to these distraction as a psychological response to discomfort.
  • The truth is that distraction comes from within, and time management is just another form of pain management.
  • The City of Venice is currently enduring the worst flooding to strike it in 50 years.
  • The mayor has declared it to be a result of climate change.
  • During a debate over next years budget, and right after rejecting environmental proposals, the main chamber of the regional council flooded.

In a twist so on the nose you couldn't make it up, the regional council room of Venice was flooded last night immediately after the council rejected budget amendments to fight climate change.

The city is currently enduring the worst flooding in 50 years. More than three-quarters of the city is underwater. In some places, the water levels are more than six feet deep. The water damaged the Crypt of St. Mark's Basilica, and a state of emergency has been declared.

The councilors for the region of Veneto were discussing next year's budget as the water began to creep in according to councilor Andrea Zanoni's Facebook post.

The main portion of it reads:

"Ironically, the chamber was flooded two minutes after the majority League, Brothers of Italy, and Forza Italia parties rejected our amendments to tackle climate change,"

In a statement to CNN, the regional president Luca Zaia rejected the notion that he and his coalition were inattentive to the environment, saying, "Beyond propaganda and deceptive reading, we are voting (for) a regional budget that spent €965 million over the past three years in the fight against air pollution, smog, which is a determining factor in climate change. To say that we do nothing is a lie."

It seems even situational irony delivered by the fates isn't enough to convince some people.

The council has moved their meetings to nearby Treviso until such a time that their council chambers are usable again.

How does this tie to Climate Change?

The risks posed by climate change to Venice are both obvious; it is literally on the water, and well known. The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, spoke to the issue this week. After saying the flooding had brought the great city "to its knees," he declared the exceptional flooding and damages to be "the effects of climate change" in a Twitter post.

He isn't wrong. Recent studies have suggested that if climate change continues unabated, Venice will be history in 100 years.

What will become of Venice?

Venice is both a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the world's great cities with a long and glorious history. To lose it to climate change would be unthinkable.

However, it is already sinking at the rate of one-fifth of an inch per year. This, combined with rising sea levels, may mean that the great city, already drowning in tourists, may soon literally be drowning.

There is some hope though. Recently, the Italian Government launched the MOSE program, which is designed to "part the sea" and keep Venice afloat by introducing a system of flood gates. In theory, they would be able to stop high tides up to ten feet from flooding the city and could be raised or lowered at will. However, the project has been plagued by problems since the start and is currently on track to be finished 11 years behind schedule.

Italy has also passed legislation requiring the science of Climate change to be taught in schools to all students. If these steps will be enough remains to be seen.

  • The European Medicines Agency granted special approval for an Ebola vaccine called Ervebo.
  • Ervebo has proven remarkably effective in clinical trials conducted in Africa.
  • An Ebola outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since August 2018.


Health regulators in Europe have issued the world's first approval for a vaccine against Ebola, and it's estimated to become widely available in 2020.

The European Medicines Agency granted a conditional marketing authorization this week that allows the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck to market the vaccine, called Ervebo. Conditional marketing authorizations help to fast-track the approval process for drugs and therapies that treat "unmet medical needs." That's important when fighting often-deadly viral diseases like Ebola.

Since August 2018, Ebola has killed more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Besides the 2014 West African outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people, the 2018 DRC outbreak is so far the deadliest on record. And the number of cases continues to rise. But experimental vaccination programs have helped curb infection rates. In these programs, Ervebo was strikingly effective, showing an estimated protective efficacy of 97.5 percent, as the World Health Organization reported in April.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"Finding a vaccine as soon as possible against this terrible virus has been a priority for the international community ever since Ebola hit West Africa five years ago," Vytenis Andriukaitis, commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety at the EU's European Commission, said in a statement. "Today's decision is therefore a major step forward in saving lives in Africa and beyond."

Ervebo protects against a particularly infectious ebolavirus species called Zaire, one of four species known to infect humans. Zaire can also infect animals, like macaques. In 2005, researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory developed an Ebola vaccine that protected macaques 100 percent of the time. But lack of funding and regulatory hurdles meant it'd take years, maybe decades, to prove the vaccine was safe and effective in humans.

Then the 2014 West African outbreak struck. With the need for an effective vaccine made clear, Merck obtained the license to Ervebo, known as rVSV-ZEBOV-GP, and soon the vaccine was being administered to people in Guinea as part of a clinical trial. The vaccination strategy there was to inoculate people who'd been in contact with others who'd been infected with Ebola. This is called ring vaccination.

But while ring vaccination was effective in preventing the spread of Zaire, it remains unclear just how long the protective effects last. That's a critical question for, say, health workers who get vaccinated to protect themselves against infection that might occur months later. There are also other ebolavirus species that other vaccines would need to address, such as the deadly Sudan species.

In addition to the conditional marketing authorization issued by the European Medicines Agency, the World Health Organization has "prequalified" the Ervebo, meaning it meets standards for safety and efficacy.

"[Prequalification] is a historic step towards ensuring the people who most need it are able to access this life-saving vaccine," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the announcement. "Five years ago, we had no vaccine and no therapeutics for Ebola. With a prequalified vaccine and experimental therapeutics, Ebola is now preventable and treatable."

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide on approval in March 2020.

  • An orangutan named Sandra was granted non-human personhood rights in 2015 and has been moved from the Buenos Aires Zoo to a home in Florida.
  • Legal personhood is not synonymous with human being. A "non-human person" refers to an entity that possesses some rights for limited legal purposes.
  • Sentience might be the characteristic necessary for granting legal rights to non-human species.


After being granted legal personhood rights in 2015, a 33-year-old orangutan named Sandra has just moved into a new, spiffy central Florida home.

Sandra has joined 21 other orangutans and 31 chimpanzees to live at the Center for Great Apes where she is reportedly thriving. Born in Germany, Sandra spent 25 years at the Buenos Aires Zoo. She was released because, according to a landmark ruling in 2015, she is a legal person who was wrongly imprisoned for the majority of her life. In the ruling, Judge Elena Liberatori declared Sandra as a "non-human person" and, thus, entitled to better living conditions and some of the same legal rights as humans.

Non-human person definition

According to legal terminology, legal personhood is not exactly synonymous with human being. The law divides the world between two entities: things and persons. According to the Nonhuman Rights Project executive director, attorney Kevin Schneider, personhood is best understood as a container for rights. Things have no rights, but once an entity is defined as a person it can obtain some rights. So, a "non-human person" refers to an entity that is guaranteed some rights for limited legal purposes.

In Sandra's case, the ruling undercut species-membership as the basis for legally denying rights, freedoms, and protections. The Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights based its argument that Sandra should not be treated as an object based on the orangutan's "sufficient cognitive functions." But others have argued that it is sentience, rather than cognitive complexity, that is the essential characteristic for granting legal rights to non-human species.

The judge in Sandra's case agreed, telling the Associated Press that by giving Sandra non-human person status she wanted to shift society's view on other-than-human beings by telling them that "animals are sentient beings and that the first right they have is our obligation to respect them."

Degrees of Sentience

Photo Source: Wikimedia

Sentience is defined as the ability to perceive one's environment and translate those perceptions into various feelings, such as suffering or pleasure. This has little to do with a species' cognitive ability.

It's been argued that it is inappropriate to humanize animal behavior in this way. Yet, science can never be totally free from this anthropomorphism, and there's a solid argument as to why.

For one, humans can only ever think about animals by drawing on their own experiences, and this facilitates many of the research questions when studying other species. Yet, beyond scientific discovery, there is an ethical motivation for relating human emotions to animal experiences. Once we accept that other species might feel pain similar to what we feel, we become responsible for their suffering.

Anthropomorphism, when used responsibly, can add emotional meaning to the science of animal sentience.

But is there a distinction to be made between sentient species? After all, we are animals. Yet, humans differentiate ourselves from other types of animals. Our culture, and the taxonomies our fields of study rely on, demand categorizations of nature. But nature is not so obedient.

Research indicates that sentience extends to a wide range of animals. For example, chimps have been found to be generous, mice have exhibited empathy and honeybees have demonstrated pessimism. But because of the limits of human perception, we don't have sufficient ways to measure just how sentient non-human species are. It likely isn't a clear-cut answer of sentient or not sentient, but shades of grey.

Currently, most of the research on animal sentience has focused on vertebrate species and been mammal-centric. It is generally accepted that vertebrates (with the disputable exception of fish) are sentient, and that invertebrates are less-so. These evolving distinctions have made nonhuman personhood protections a messy legal area.

Admittedly, humans have something these other sentient beings apparently do not: The cognitive ability to create complex cultures which have allowed us to conceive of and communicate a claim of rights. But, as environmental researcher Uta Maria Juergens has argued, "If we pride ourselves on our unique intellect, we ought to also pride ourselves on assuming the responsibility that comes with it."