Prof. Vijaya Manicavasagar

What are panic attacks and why do they happen? Can panic attacks kill you? Can they make you lose your mind? Or are they just a completely harmless, albeit horrendous natural bodily function?

In today’s episode Prof. Vijaya Manicavasagar joins me to discuss the twin topic of panic disorder and agoraphobia. We discuss how panic disorder and agoraphobia are related, how and why the one develops into the other, and most importantly the various treatments options available, including a couple of self-help suggestions.

Vijaya is Director of Psychological Services and Director of the Psychology Clinic at the Black Dog Institute, associate Professor at the School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, and the lead investigator in a series of studies on the development and implementation of wellbeing programs in schools in Australia.

As well being in involved in the development of several apps and online programs with Digital Dog, a research group within the Black Dog Institute working to use technology the solve mental health problems, she is also co-author of the book Overcoming Panic and Agoraphobia.


Vijaya’s Recommended Links

The Black Dog Institute – a world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Digital Dog – Improving mental health through technology.

Spark –  a mobile phone application which identifies people’s values, describes them, and then provides steps to improve one’s life to be consistent with those values.

Books Mentioned in This Episode



Image courtesy: Arte_ON

6 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    Great that there’s a new podcast talking about mental health. However it made me think more of what I am finding to be wrong with what is considered the mental health system in the UK – the system appears to be focussed on pathologising the individual and labelling them with a ‘disorder’ or ‘illness’ so no wonder there are major issues with stigma and understanding what we really need to change.

    It strikes me from my own experience and from reading about alternative views that we are missing the main issue. The guest Vijaya stated that some people are just more highly strung then others and while this seems true we need to ask why this is so?.

    This leads me to the main point the issues we refer to as mental illness are reactions to the world around us not some personal illness. Those highly strung people, my mother included are the product of their experiences both past and current. These experiences are often indicative of suffering in the real world, through what David Smail referred to as ‘distal’ influences eg – ideology, policy, economics, class, education, broken communities, overwork, jobs that are hugely harmful to people, debt, insecure work, poverty, substance misuse, relationships, chronic routines and so on.

    The podcast interview seems to be promoting the personal disorder narrative drawing on the DSM and its diagnostic labels. – It would be most helpful to also present the counter view to this especially in light of the DSM 5 controversy leading to it being scrapped recently. The DMS ‘disorders’ have been shown to be invalid and unreliable- These illness are voted into existence and caught by word of mouth – you might find Cracked by James Davies, or Tales from the Mad House by Gary Sidley interesting amongst many others.

    The presentation of disorders as real medical facts is very one sided and serves to promote the disease model that many would argue is invalid, unhelpful and is actually causing more harm than good.

    It seems to me know that what are really dealing with are cultural disorders that have been recast as person illness> I have found David Smail very inspiring

    So what would be helpful is to raise our awareness of how the culture is harming us and seek in solidarity with others to change what is wrong with our world so we have a chance to thrive.

    • Danny Whittaker
      Danny Whittaker says:

      Hi Chris, thank you for your comment. The first one this blog has ever received, so a landmark moment for me 🙂

      I agree with much of what you say. However, in my defense, it’s early days to worry about me being one-sided, or promoting any particular kind of narrative.

      My ultimate goal is to explore all aspects of mental health, starting with the basics, and building outwards from there into more nuanced topics. To interview people who are critical of the status quo, without first establishing what the status quo even is, would, in my opinion, be putting the cart before the horse.

      I would love to offer alternative view points, maybe even have academics debate one another in real time, and that is definitely something I’m working towards.

      The truth is, at this stage, I’m only nine episodes in. I just don’t have the reputation or influence to arrange any such meeting of minds. Right now, I’m doing all I can to just get people to even reply to my emails.

      Anyway, thanks for the David Smail recommendation, his website looks interesting. James Davies is already on my radar. I’m looking to interview somebody on Thomas Szasz and “The Myth of Mental Illness”. And an interview with James C. Coyne on systemic misinformation looks promising.

      So, I am trying. Just have to bare with me a little.

      All the best, Danny.

  2. Chris
    Chris says:

    Hi Danny – sorry if my post came across as overly critical, I was having a busy day and I should have taken more care – I think its great that you plan to bring in more voices and hopefully encourage debates so we can all learn more – it seems to me that we need to move away from the system we have as it seems to do more harm than good.

    Gary Sidley’s book Tales from the Madhouse does a good job at painting an overall picture of what is wrong.I hope you enjoy David Smails work and I think his ideas on self interest and power are central to how we get so entangled with these cultural harms

    It would be great if you can get to bring in some of the voices below, people i’ve also found inspiring – Its always hopeful to see people speaking about what they see is wrong even of this means talking down their own professions, stepping back from self interest and placing the greater good front and centre – all the best with it as I said I think its great that you are doing this, stick with it.

    • Danny Whittaker
      Danny Whittaker says:

      Hi Chris, no worries. I appreciate the feedback. Comments like yours will give me the extra weight I need to help bring in more names.

      It’s one thing to invite people on simply because I’d like to speak to them, but sending them screenshots of audience demand… That’s how we reel them in 🙂

    • Danny Whittaker
      Danny Whittaker says:

      Hi Sheila, thank you for the kind words. That’s the first time my voice has been described as pleasant! I’ve always thought I just sounded like a scally Mancunian. Maybe you’re not from the UK? In which case I love the idea that somewhere out there is a town/city where my accent would be an asset 🙂


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.