Stephen Fry on Coping with Depression: It’s Raining, But the Sun Will Come Out Again

The past three decades have seen an expo­nen­tial growth in the under­stand­ing and treat­ment options for depres­sion, despite the fact that for much of that time, men­tal ill­ness has remained a taboo sub­ject in pop­u­lar dis­course. This was indeed the case, even as almost two-and-a-half mil­lion pre­scrip­tions were writ­ten for Prozac in the U.S. in 1988, the year after its FDA approval. But much has changed since then. For one thing, we’ve seen a full-on back­lash against the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal rev­o­lu­tion in men­tal health treat­ment, lead­ing to the pop­u­lar­i­ty of non-drug treat­ments like cog­ni­tive behav­ioral ther­a­py and med­i­ta­tion for less severe forms of depres­sion.

We’ve also seen a pop­u­lar­iza­tion of can­did dis­cus­sions about the ill­ness, lead­ing to a spate of clickbait‑y arti­cles like “20 Celebri­ties Who Bat­tled Depres­sion” and seri­ous, seem­ing­ly week­ly fea­tures on social media depres­sion. We can cred­it actor and writer Stephen Fry for a lot of our cur­rent famil­iar­i­ty and com­fort lev­el with the dis­ease.

Ten years ago, Fry “came out” in his BBC doc­u­men­tary The Secret Life of the Man­ic Depres­sive, and since then, he’s open­ly dis­cussed his strug­gle with his ill­ness and his sui­cide attempts. In the videos here, you can see him do just that. At the top, in an inter­view imme­di­ate­ly after the doc­u­men­tary came out, Fry dis­cuss­es the “mor­bid” seri­ous­ness of his dis­ease, which he com­pares to hav­ing “your own per­son­al weath­er.” In deal­ing with it, he says, there are “two mis­takes… to deny that it’s rain­ing… and to say, ‘there­fore my life is over. It’s rain­ing and the sun will nev­er come out.’”

Since mak­ing his diag­no­sis pub­lic, Fry has always sound­ed a note of hope. But his sto­ry, which he tells in more per­son­al detail in the clip fur­ther up, illus­trates the incred­i­ble tra­vails of liv­ing with depres­sion and men­tal ill­ness, even under treat­ment that has brought him sta­bil­i­ty and suc­cess. Like the weath­er, storms come. He revealed his “black stages” in his 2006 doc­u­men­tary. Now, ten years on, Fry has revis­it­ed the strug­gle in a fol­low-up piece, The Not So Secret Life of the Man­ic Depres­sive, in which he opens up about more recent inci­dents, like his sui­cide attempt after inter­view­ing Simon Loko­do, Uganda’s Min­is­ter for Ethics and Integri­ty and spon­sor of the country’s noto­ri­ous “Kill the Gays” bill. (Fry, who is gay, describes Loko­do as a “foam­ing froth­ing homo­phobe of the worst kind.”)

The “mes­sage” of his most recent film, writes The Inde­pen­dent, “was clear across the board: there is no quick fix for men­tal health and no catch-all solu­tion.” As Fry says, “It’s nev­er going to get off my back, this mon­key, it’s always going to be there.” But as he re-iter­ates strong­ly in the Big Think inter­view above, “if the weather’s bad, one day it will get bet­ter.” This can’t hap­pen in a sus­tained way, as it has for Fry, if we per­son­al­ly deny we’re depressed and don’t get help, or if we pub­li­cal­ly deny the dis­ease, and force peo­ple liv­ing with it into a life of shame and need­less suf­fer­ing. “The stig­ma of men­tal ill­ness,” argues clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Michael Fried­man, “is mak­ing us sick­er.” But Fry, who has in the last ten years become the pres­i­dent of a men­tal health non-prof­it called Mind, is opti­mistic. “It’s in the cul­ture more,” he says, “and it’s talked about more.” One hopes we see that talk turned into more action in the com­ing years.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen Fry Launch­es Pin­dex, a “Pin­ter­est for Edu­ca­tion”

Stephen Fry: What I Wish I Knew When I Was 18

Stephen Fry Hates Danc­ing: Watch Fry’s Rant Against Danc­ing Get Turned into a Won­der­ful Inter­pre­ta­tive Dance

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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