Fry on depression

June 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stephen Fry blogs:

There isn’t any point in denying that the outburst of sympathy and support that followed my confession to an attempt at self-slaughter last year (Richard Herring podcast) has touched me very deeply.

Some people, as some people always will, cannot understand that depression (or in my case cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder) is an illness and they are themselves perhaps the sufferers of a malady that one might call either an obsession with money, or a woeful lack of imagination.

“How can someone so well-off, well-known and successful have depression?” they ask. Alastair Campbell in a marvelous article, suggested changing the word “depression” to “cancer” or “diabetes” in order to reveal how, in its own way, sick a question, it is. Ill-natured, ill-informed, ill-willed or just plain ill, it’s hard to say.

But, most people, a surging, warm, caring majority, have been kind. Almost too kind. There’s something a little flustering and embarrassing when a taxi-driver shakes you by the hand, looks deep into your eyes and says “You look after yourself, mate, yes? Promise me?” And there’s something perhaps not too helpful to one’s mental health when it is the only subject people want to talk to you about, however kindly or for whatever reasons.

But I have nothing to complain about. I won’t go into the terrible details of the bottle of vodka, the mixture of pills and the closeness to permanent oblivion I came. You can imagine them and I don’t want to upset the poor TV producer and hotel staff who had to break down my door and find me in the unconscious state I was in, four broken ribs thanks to some sort of convulsive fit that must have overtaken me while I lay almost comatose, vomit dribbling from my mouth. You can picture the scene.

The episode, plus the relationship I now have with a magnificent psychiatrist, has made made my mental health better, I think, than it’s ever been. I used to think it utterly normal that I suffered from “suicidal ideation” on an almost daily basis. In other words, for as long as I can remember, the thought of ending my life came to me frequently and obsessively.

His entire blog post is very raw and real, but I am sure hugely helpful to the millions who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. When you read what he has gone through, I am sure you feel less alone in your own battles.

I suppose I just don’t like my own company very much. Which is odd, given how many times people very kindly tell me that they’d put me on their ideal dinner party guestlist. I do think I can usually be relied upon to be good company when I’m out and about and sitting round a table chatting, being silly, sharing jokes and stories and bringing shy people out of their shells.

But then I get home and I’m all alone again.

I don’t write this for sympathy. I don’t write it as part as my on going and undying commitment to the cause of mental health charities like Mind. I don’t quite know why I write it. I think I write it because it fascinates me.

And perhaps I am writing this for any of you out there who are lonely too. There’s not much we can do about it. I am luckier than many of you because I am lonely in a crowd of people who are mostly very nice to me and appear to be pleased to meet me. But I want you to know that you are not alone in your being alone.

Loneliness is not much written about (my spell-check wanted me to say that loveliness is not much written about – how wrong that is) but humankind is a social species and maybe it’s something we should think about more than we do. I cannot think of many plays or documentaries or novels about lonely people. Aah, look at them all, Paul McCartney enjoined us in Eleanor Rigby… where do they all come from?

The strange thing is, if you see me in the street and engage in conversation I will probably freeze into polite fear and smile inanely until I can get away to be on my lonely ownsome.

Make of that what you will.

 

Hat Tip: Whale Oil

 

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Using science for good

April 5th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The PM announced a significant funding and policy package yesterday around teenage mental health. An extract from his speech:

Even a mild mental illness can have a big impact on a young person’s life and on those around them.

In my time as Prime Minister I’ve seen the impact of youth mental illness all too often.

I’ve met teenagers suffering from depression who can’t see a path forward.

I’ve met gay and lesbian kids who are struggling with their sexuality and suffering from anxiety issues.

And I’ve met parents who have lost a child to suicide. These are good, everyday Kiwi parents.

When the worst happens and a teenager takes their own life, those left behind have a heavy burden to bear.

Our youth suicide rate is alarmingly high.

They say the worse thing in the world is outliving a child. Even worse than that must be, when the death is from suicide. The trauma it leaves behind with family and close friends is massive, and scars for life. It is one reason why suicide is generally such as extremely selfish act. But sadly, sometimes seems a logical option to a desperately unhappy person.

Anyway what I found interesting and encouraging was the words from Sir Peter Gluckman on the package:

The announcement today of a very significant package of initiatives aimed to improve the quality, and the effectiveness of the delivery, of mental health services to young people throughout New Zealand is both important in its own right and also a demonstration of how evidence and expert advice can be used effectively to improve policy formation. …

The origin of these initiatives is an exemplar of how policy formation in complex areas can be based on informed scientific advice. In 2009, the Prime Minister asked me to consider the problems associated with the transition through adolescence. Rather than undertake a superficial review, I embarked on a 18-month project that eventually involved more than 30 New Zealand experts and several international contributors. Intentionally we produced a report, entitled Improving the transition, that stayed focused on the scientifically robust evidence and avoided opinion and anecdote. Among its findings were significant concerns about the provision of mental health services to many young people. Following this report, the Prime Minister initiated an officials group to consider what could be done, taking into account the advice from our report, and their work was subject to iterative review by an expert group chaired by myself. It is primarily from that process that the initiatives announced today emerged.

This is an excellent way to do policy, with a robust science based approach.

I’ve seen policy formulation done many ways. I’ve been in rooms when we have brainstormed election policy. I’ve seen policy changed unilaterally to fit an advertisement (rather than vice-versa). One won’t always be able to do policy as described above, but it is an ideal to aim for in many portfolios.

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Guest Post: Mental Mania

March 12th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Peter Freedman:

I suffer from a mental illness.

That probably won’t surprise too many of you.

I am happy to tell about my illness for two reasons. Firstly, there is still a view that having an MI means you are dangerous and mad. I am not either. Next this is an encouragement to men, especially, that you do not need to suffer in silence.

As John Kirwan says, tell someone. And if they don’t get it tell someone else. Keep telling someone till they get it. That’s what I did.

I get panic attacks. Looking back, I now recognize that I have suffered these attacks most of my life. My wife remembers me getting the shakes during our marriage ceremony. I still maintain this was just anticipation of the night to come, but, perhaps not.

The symptoms of panic are varied. Most commonplace is uncontrollable shaking and what is called a “feeling of impending doom” – the fear that something big and nasty is just around the next corner. And it is coming for YOU. You don’t know what it is except that it is coming……

Random and silly fears are also common. Once, while peeling prawns I became convinced that they would poison us unless I removed every single bit of the black membrane. Another time I woke in the middle of the night, shook my wife awake demanding we evacuate immediately because the house was about to catch fire.

“Go back to bed, you silly old fool,” she said lovingly. And when I awoke the house was still standing.

My illness came to a head about two years ago when I suffered all the symptoms of a heart attack. The ambos did an ECG which showed my ticker was fine.

We went to hospital where they conducted test after test. All came back normal. The doctors told me I was suffering from stress.

Three nights later, I thought I was having a stroke. Back to hospital. Even more tests, scans, xrays. All results were normal, normal, normal.

So why was I feeling so crook when there was nothing wrong?

“It’s all in your head, dear,” said the nurse, gently patting my hand.

This time I went to the doctor who gave me some pills. In a couple of days , I felt right. YIPPEE, I WAS CURED!

So I stopped taking the drug. Staunch Kiwi bloke doesn’t need THOSE THINGS.

Bad move. My next panic attack lasted 48 hours. By the end I was almost suicidal.

So I went back to the doctor ,then to a counselor. Finally to a shrink. SHE GOT IT.

Now I am kept under control by a cocktail of drugs. I will never be cured and will pop pills for the rest of my life. Far better than the alternative.

And remember this:

If you THINK you are going mad, that’s the surest sign that you are not. It’s only if you don’t think you are growing mad, but everyone else is going loopy, that you are really going insane.

PS: I have just reread that last sentence five times and still don’t understand it.

Sheet, maybe I AM going loony……..Aghhhhhhh!!!

I admire people who do or have suffered from mental illness to be so upfront about it. I know that it helps a lot of people out there who have been through the same, and see they are not alone.

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