I am an avid reader of Sally Brampton’s column in Psychologies magazine…I suppose I should now say a former avid reader as on the 10th of May this year Sally took her own life by walking into the sea. I am only writing about this now as the news has only just reached me. This morning I picked up my copy of Psychologies and flipped eagerly to the back page. I expected to be enveloped by Sally’s warm and witty words. Instead I found her tribute staring blackly back at me. It was a shock and later it was more shocking still to read that she had taken her own life. I was aware that Sally had struggled with depression but her columns were always so positive and brimming with life that it was hard for me to reconcile the image of her and her black dog with the person I was reading about.
Ah but there’s the rub. We live in a society where it is all too easy to plaster on a smile and go about our days as if nothing is wrong, as if our world hasn’t shrunk to the size of a tiny black oven – hot and dark and too terrifying. It is too easy to reply ‘I’m fine’ when asked how you are. The fact is many of us ask how a person is without even really stopping to hear the answer. I realised this when sharing a flat with a German girl. She took my ‘oh hi, how are you’ at face value and gave me a blow by blow account of her day. I, young and feckless, probably ignored half of what she said; too caught up in my own dramas. But as I grew older (and possibly) a little wiser it struck me how much more valuable it would be if we actually answered that polite enquiry more truthfully. It might surprise how often people are struggling.
Social media has made it even easier to hide our true selves. We can stay locked up in our own minds but broadcast an image to the world of a fun, easy-going life without a care in the world. This is so often not the case. But the power of imagery is such that we believe entirely what we see even when we know better.
A number of months ago I too struggled with depression or ‘reactive depression’ to give it its official term (that is a depressive incident in response to a stressful event). I attempted, for far too long to ignore the anxiety and mood swings which characterised most days. I would wake with a sick stomach but ignored what my body was trying to tell me. When I finally caved and went to see my GP her solution was a complete break and a course of antidepressants. It was completely alien to me to take time off to mind myself. It would have been easier had I broken my leg or contracted some type of physical disease. Then I would have felt more justified in stopping to take a break…more justified but still not more comfortable. I find it very hard to just stop and take a breath. When I came down with glandular ever during my college years I didn’t take the necessary time to heal and made things all the worse for myself. This is another burden of life today; we seem to always need to be busy and expect others to be equally as busy. We have to keep that to-do list piled high and are judged too often on our achievements rather than our characters or.
I hope that Sally’s death wakes us up and shakes us up and makes us really think. You never know what your neighbour, friend or colleague is hiding behind that smile or friendly salute. Sally fought for many years to help herself and others. Let us continue her fight by pushing aside mental health stigmas and talking, talking, talking about our mental health.