Is it my imagination or has depression become quite trendy lately?
I was at my gym the other day and saw this poster of Stephen Fry. It started me thinking about how attitudes to depression have really changed lately.
It may have started with Stephen Fry coming out – not as gay, but as bipolar. Fry became mental health charity Mind Champion of the year in 2007 for his excellent documentary The Secret Life Of the Manic Depressive. In this he bravely explored his own experience of bipolar disorder and spoke to others of their experiences. These public displays by celebrities, while dismissed by some as merely publicity seeking, have a huge effect on how the general public view mental health. Here was a very successful, hugely popular and highly functioning person admitting to mental health problems. What a great way to update old fashioned stereotypical images of mental health.
Or maybe it started earlier. In the 1990’s Diana, Princess of Wales’s public admissions of self-harm and eating disorders allowed anyone suffering from these illnesses to share more openly what was happening for them.
Earlier this year Freddie Flintoff, ex-England cricket captain presented an amazing documentary on the BBC about his depression. Freddie Flintoff – Hidden Side Of Sport showed Flintoff trying to understand his depression which had paralysed him while captaining England during 2006-2007. The film had him talk to a host of internationally famous sports stars, all revealing their own stories. I felt that Flintoff and the other contributors were particularly brave. Within the world of professional sport, where everyone is a winner, there is not normally room for this type of self-reflection.
The times they are a changing
In the documentary, Piers Morgan, ex-editor of the Daily Mirror, was interviewed by Flintoff. Morgan admitted that during Flintoff’s troubles he found no sympathy for him at all. He mocked him in the Daily Mirror – Flintoff was captain of England. What right did he have to be depressed? Morgan now reflects that this was an unfair way to treat him and admits that his own lack of understanding was at the root of the mocking.
The recent tragic suicide by the Welsh national football manager Gary Speed was handled in a much more sensitive way by the media. Within the football profession as well it was taken seriously. The PFA (Professional Footballers Association) acted immediately by sending out 50,000 booklets offering advice on depression to all ex-players. Now that seems like a great improvement to me.
Time to Change is an anti-stigma campaign run by the leading mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.