Silja Björk Björnsdóttir at TEDxReykjavík 2014.

Silja Björk Björnsdóttir gave a TEDxReykjavík talk in 2014 titled “The taboo of depression”. In her talk, she candidly shares what it is like to be in a state of depression. Silja seeks to destigmatize depression and mental illness and encourages us to take a fresh look at how we as a society deal with these issues. Silja is a writer and activist who lives in Reykjavík, Iceland.

I’ve always loved public speaking, ever since I took my childhood teddy to my first show and tell back in elementary school. That might be why nobody was surprised that I reached out to the TEDxReykjavík team in early 2014 — I wanted to publicly speak out about my mental health journey. In my fifteen minute talk about the taboos surrounding depression I asked the audience why we are so ready to use social media as a front for our physical achievements, but never our mental health.

This was a question that haunted me for years, because when I was depressed and suicidal, all I ever thought about was how to curate my social media in such a way people would envy me, admire me and never suspect I was suffering. I was obsessed with this glittery image of myself until I realized, sitting in the shared space of the psychiatric ward after my failed suicide attempt, that this image I was projecting of myself was a mirage and nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

From that moment on, I tried my best and hardest to post about mental health issues on social media. It was extremely difficult to open up about these seemingly unspoken issues but as soon as I spoke at TEDxReykjavík in the spring of 2014, I felt like the veil had been pierced.

I was standing completely naked and afraid in front of thousands of people — but I was proud.

Speaking so openly about my own personal issues and asking these questions in my TEDx talk helped pave the way for my social media revolution, titled #égerekkitabú or #I am not taboo, in 2015. I, along with two other inspiring women who’ve suffered from mental health issues, started tweeting and posting on Facebook about mental health and encouraged people to share their own stories about depression, anxiety and mental health journeys as openly as we share stories about our everyday lives, families, interests and good looking meals. The message was simple — you are not alone in this, you are not weak, different or weird and you are certainly not a taboo.

‘The taboo of depression’ — Silja’s talk at TEDxReykjavík 2014.

We never expected this campaign to pick up as fast and easily as it did. It was apparent people had been looking for a platform to open up, share and talk about these issues and it felt great providing the public with a way to communicate and connect. In the span of one day we had already gathered quite the following on Twitter (@gedsjuk) and on our closed Facebook-group. We saw people of all ages and all walks of life connecting, sharing, liking, reposting, retweeting and before long we were being interviewed by every major media and news outlet in the country. It was a radical revolution — but it was something that needed to be said.

Speaking at TEDxReykjavík three years ago taught me to never be afraid.

It helped me become a better and more confident public speaker. I also realized that if you have something to share or a dream you want to follow — go for it! We as humans are collectively always searching for connections to others and it feels great to be able to provide people with connections and hope.

This experience was truly a humbling, learning and growing moment for me and I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity, even if I tried.


Silja Björk