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Emma Thompson, depression, and Mental Health Awareness Month

Posted May 01 2010 1:14pm

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Institute of Mental Health site says “26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year… 57.7 million people.”

And that doesn’t include many other people who suffer from untreated or undiagnosed anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges.

As part of their programming, the Discovery Channel has a series titled Psych Week beginning May 2.

This is from the Celebrities with Mental Health Disorders section of the site, which includes a number of prominent people (e.g. Brooke Shields, John Nash, Craig Ferguson and others):

‘Along with 20 million people in the U.S., British actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson has dealt with depression. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Thompson said she battled clinical depression in the past, with her career saving her from “going under.”

‘Like other people living with clinical depression, Thompson said she felt sad and hopeless, and was unable to get out of bed at times.’

The Telegraph article is “ Emma Thompson says work saved her from ‘going under’ in her battle with depression ” by Roya Nikkhah. Here is an excerpt:

The Oscar-winning actress described being crippled throughout her life by the condition, which she first suffered while playing the leading role in a West End revival of the musical Me and My Girl in the 1980s.

She said: “I think my first bout of that was when I was doing Me and My Girl, funnily enough. I really didn’t change my clothes or answer the phone, but went into the theatre every night and was cheerful and sang the Lambeth Walk.

“That’s what actors do. But I think that was my first bout with an actual clinical depression.”

“Sane” and not so sane

Asked how she stayed sane, Thompson replied: “I don’t think I did stay sane, actually. It was tough. I think I probably should have sought professional help long before I actually did, for all sorts of reasons.

“Yes, divorce, ghastly, painful business but also fame, in some ways a ghastly, painful business as well. You become slightly more public property in a way that’s not necessarily always comfortable.”

Thompson, 50, who is married to the actor Greg Wise, described how writing the screenplay for the film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, in which she starred alongside Wise and Kate Winslet, helped her overcome another period of severe depression during the breakdown of her first marriage.

She said: “The only thing I could do was write. I used to crawl from the bedroom to the computer and just sit and write, and then I was alright, because I was not present. “Sense and Sensibility really saved me from going under, I think, in a very nasty way.”

Acting as escape

The star of films including Nanny McPhee, Love Actually and An Education, also described acting as “an escape from myself, which I’m ashamed to say I enjoy very much.”

Asked what she was escaping, Thompson said: “Oh, you know, the voices in my head. The constant “must do better”, “must try harder” plus “you’re too fat and not really a very good mother”. “That punitive conscience is part of my psychiatric problem.”

The actress also attributed part of her success to the fact that her career is not based on her looks. She said: “I don’t think I am considered a beauty… I’ve always thought of myself as a character actress, so in a sense I’ve got much less to lose.”

~ ~

[For a sample of her literate and delightfully droll personal writing, see her piece titled Emma Thompson on the Golden Globes in Finch's Quarterly Review.]

See related page Acting to nurture mental health

For more on mood disorders and creative expression, see my site Depression and Creativity

Emma Thompson and depression, creativity and depression, writing and depression, artists and depression, psychology of creativity, creative mind

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