How to Manage Your Mental Health: Leon Taylor (Full Transcript)

Leon Taylor

Following is the full transcript of former competitive diver Leon Taylor’s TEDx Talk: How to Manage Your Mental Health @ TEDxClapham conference. This event occurred on June 17, 2018.


Listen to the MP3 audio while reading the transcript: How to manage your mental health by Leon Taylor @ TEDxClapham


Leon Taylor – Former competitive diver

So my mum and dad still refer to me to this day is a bit of a pain in the backside. And probably, for a good reason, how many parents have we got in here? Give me a quick wave. Loads of you.

Well, I was a hyperactive child. I drove my parents up the wall with my endless amounts of energy. I wouldn’t sleep. I needed constant attention and no matter what my parents seemed to do, I wouldn’t rest. A few of you nodding, sorry about that.

My parents had no idea what to do with me. So they took me to the family doctor to see if there’s anything that he could do.

Now I’m not sure what available labels there were back then, but the family doctor labeled me as a problem child. And he said to my mum and dad, he can’t cope with Leon. I can always take him off you and sedate him, and that he proceeded to share with them some other drug related interventions that they might want to consider.

And for whatever reason, my mum and dad bulked at this. They decided that they would find another way. So they gave me away to other people to look after — mum and dad’s friends and family but that didn’t work, because everyone got very busy and they were left — my mom and dad were left with their problem child at the end of their tether.

You know, there’s a picture of my mum and dad on their wedding day, they looked young, healthy, vital. And there’s a picture of the three of us less than two years later and they looked as if they’ve aged 25 years. So my parents decided to fight fire with fire and they decided to attempt to tire me out. And that’s where my life of activity started way before I can even remember.

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I was swimming from day dot. I went to mother and baby gymnastics before I was one-year old. That turned into tumble tots. And I was taking part in any physical activity that was going, and every sport that I was able to do at the age that I was at.

And magical things started to happen. I became easier to manage, and I’m glad my parents went down the physical activity route, because my dreams of going to the Olympic Games started when I was six years old.

I watched the Olympic Games on the TV in 1984, and I told my dad then that I wanted to go to the Olympic Games.

I used to get the Guinness Book of World Records at Christmas, and I would write down in my best handwriting: my time next to the world-record holder to see how many minutes I needed to take off.

And I’m glad my parents went down this route, because when I was 9 or just before I was 9, I started diving. And that was one of the many sports that I tried, but actually within a short space of time it was clear to me that diving was the sport for me.

Ultimately, I followed my Olympic dreams in the sport diving competing at 3 Olympic Games and even winning an Olympic medal in 2004. And none of that would have been possible if my mum and dad hadn’t chosen physical movement as my medicine.

So it’s widely known the negative effects of inactivity on someone’s physical health and the associated risk of disease. But what’s really concerning me is the link between inactivity and someone’s mental health.

Now can I just check with you here today in London just by a show of hands, how many of you know someone close to you who has suffered — always suffering with in some way their mental health? Just give me a quick indicate… Wow! Pretty much every hand went up. This is a huge issue today.

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You know, in a recent index of over 300 diseases, mental health problems were the largest cause of the overall disease burden worldwide. Here in the UK, a 2016 official survey showed that nearly 20% of those 16 and over are suffering with symptoms of either depression and/or anxiety.

And there’s a huge percentage of the population who don’t necessarily have a diagnosable mental health problem, but who are suffering with their mental health. It seems that stress and overwhelm are so commonplace in today’s society, and although stress in itself is not a mental health issue, it’s often the starting point for many.

Could you imagine what our world would be like if we had very few mental health issues? What would it be like if we could drastically reduce the number of people who are suffering?

Well, I believe we can. I think there’s something that we can do even more of and is simple. I’d like to argue that we spend too much time stuck in our heads and not enough time in our bodies.

Thinking isn’t necessarily the solution to our problems. Thinking is often the cause, especially when we get stuck in a pattern of over-thinking.

Over-thinking leads to psychological stress. And according to the World Health Organization, stress is a global health epidemic.

So what can we do?

We can move more. We can physically move, because, you know, physically moving changes absolutely everything. And when I say everything, I mean our experience of the world and what else is there. Fascinating things happen biochemically in the brain when we move.

The first thing that happens when we begin to move physically, the human nervous system recognizes this as a moment of stress, and in order – as it thinks you’re about to fight or flee from an enemy, and in order to protect you, your brain releases a chemical — a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Fancy name, BDNF for short.

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BDNF repairs the brain, protects the brain, and it also plays a key role in creating new neurons specifically in the hippocampus area of the brain. Alongside this, another chemical is released, one that you may be more familiar with: endorphins.

Endorphins are often attributed to the high that we feel after moving physically but their role is to dumb down any discomfort that we might encounter from fighting or fleeing from that enemy.

So essentially it’s the chemical mix of BDNF and endorphin which explain why things are often clearer and we feel more at ease after moving physically.

But how does this show up in the real world? How do we experience this?

Well, moving physically in the short term immediately changes our state. Thanks. Immediately changes our state. It boosts our mood and it releases the buildup of stress in our human nervous system.

And over the long-term, consistent physical movement changes the structure of our brain. It boosts self-esteem and decreases the biological reaction to psychological stress.

Psychological stress is clearly the enemy to our mental health. And it’s physical movement that is our best weapon to respond. This isn’t new.

Cicero who was around over 2,000 years ago, arguably one of Rome’s greatest orators said this: “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits and keeps the mind in vigor.” And he was right. And it seems more applicable now than ever.

There’s a whole body of research showing that movement is an effective intervention on more serious mental health issues. In 2013, there was a study into depression that showed that meditative movement — in this case, it was Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi were effective in reducing symptoms of depression in all participants in that particular study.

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