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April 29, 2008

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.

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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