All in Her Head

Q & A with British author Sally Brampton on her battle with depression.

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You think you've got problems? In the late '90s, British author Sally Brampton was an award-winning journalist and editor, with a house in London, a family, and a fabulous wardrobe. But when the job disappeared and her marriage disintegrated, she crashed into a deep depression that took her four years to conquer. The details are all in her new memoir, Shoot the Damn Dog, a hard stare at the horrors of the disease that affects 12 million American women each year, and the stigma that keeps most of them from talking about it.

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MC: You were a high-functioning woman. Why do you think this happened to you?

SB: The misconception is that if you're successful, you can't be depressed — that it only happens to losers with no lives. But it can happen to anyone if the chemistry is right.

MC: You were fired, your marriage fell apart, and a close friend died all within a few weeks . . . did you suspect a breakdown was imminent?

SB: I'd always thought of my-self as strong, self-contained. I had been through difficult stuff before — I refused to admit to myself that I might be in trouble. Denial is an extraordinary thing.

MC: Do you think women are more susceptible to depression?

SB: No. I think men are just less likely to talk about it. But there is extra pressure on women to be perfect — to have the right body, the right job, the right handbag, to be a great mother.

MC: You tried to kill yourself.

SB: Yes. I took pills, twice. It wasn't so much a desire to die as a fervent wish not to go on living. I had been staying alive for others, and I can't describe the intensity of the effort.

MC: And you tried antidepressants.

SB: They didn't work, which made me feel like more of a failure. I shouldn't have — one psychiatrist told me that antidepressant meds work on about 30 percent of his patients.

MC: How do you manage the illness now?

SB: Yoga, walks, acupuncture, eating right. I also go to AA three times a week, which is therapy for me. I'm on a new kind of antidepressant, which so far seems to stabilize my moods. And I admit to people when I'm not doing well, rather than soldiering on.

MC: Do you worry that the stigma's so strong, this book will hurt your career?

SB: The only thing I worry about is being pigeonholed as Sad Ol' Sal, professional depressive. But I really wanted to write a raw account of living with suicidal depression in hopes of helping anyone who's ever been in the pit or who knows someone who has and wants to understand him better. I think we learn through stories, which is why I made the book a narrative. The more honest we are about the illness, the more people will begin to accept it.

DEPRESSION BY THE NUMBERS

Severe depression affects 120 MILLION people worldwide.

Women are TWICE as likely as men to experience depression.

118 MILLION prescriptions were written for antidepressants in 2005. average age that Americans develop a major depressive disorder is 32.

$13.5 BILLION was spent on antidepressants in 2006.

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