Fa­mous, beau­ti­ful, suc­cess­ful ... and ready to kill her­self

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Comment - Rachel John­son Follow Rachel on Twit­ter @RachelSJohn­son Job done, Dewbs.

I’LL al­ways re­mem­ber where I was when Michelle said she’d de­cided to kill her­self. It was last Thurs­day and we were on the set of Sky News in Oster­ley, in West Lon­don. ‘I’ve got some­thing per­sonal to share with you. It’s the first time I’ve spo­ken about this pub­licly be­cause of the stigma at­tached,’ Michelle Dew­berry, a for­mer win­ner of The Ap­pren­tice be­gan, as we recorded The Pledge.

‘Some years ago I took the de­ci­sion to end my life. It was a de­ci­sion I took heav­ily, af­ter years of un­hap­pi­ness.’

We sat stunned, gog­gling at our fel­low pan­el­list, in her tight body­con navy dress and stilet­tos. If this was balls-to-the-wall, we were jaws-to-the-floor. It seemed beyond imag­in­ing that this smart, gor­geous young busi­ness­woman of 37, who won The Ap­pren­tice in 2006, and pub­lished an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy called Any­thing Is Pos­si­ble, could have con­tem­plated sui­cide just a few years ago. It wasn’t pos­si­ble at all. It was im­pos­si­ble.

And it also seemed im­pos­si­ble that we were talk­ing about it on a mid­dle-of-the-road telly gabfest.

OK, it wasn’t quite up there with the other tele­vi­sion wa­ter­sheds that summed up how we were chang­ing as a nation: pre­sen­ter Gil­bert Hard­ing cry­ing when asked about his mother’s death in 1960; Ken­neth Ty­nan say­ing ‘f***’ in 1965, lead­ing to four mo­tions be­ing tabled in Par­lia­ment; Princess Diana ad­mit­ting to adul­tery, bu­limia, self-harm and de­pres­sion on Panorama in 1995. But still. Def­i­nitely a mo­ment.

As we pro­cessed Michelle’s bomb­shell (there are guide­lines when talk­ing about sui­cide, or even thoughts about sui­cide, so the de­bate was short on de­tail) I had to work out how to re­spond. There was no time to pause, to won­der whether sui­cide and/or se­vere de­pres­sion were top­ics to be de­bated – we’d just cov­ered Squeaker Ber­cow, Me­la­nia Trump, and fake news – on a prime-time cable show. To ask whether this sub­ject should be… en­ter­tain­ment.

Dewbs was say­ing she’d asked to be sec­tioned, but was in­stead placed on a care plan un­der the su­per­vi­sion of doc­tors, and was up and down still. And the rea­son why she ‘shared’ on the show was this.

None of this would have hap­pened – she might not have been sit­ting there – had she not de­cided to talk in the first place. As she spoke, I was think­ing how her im­pulse to share is be­ing en­cour­aged by the younger Roy­als, who are lead­ing from the front when it comes to end­ing the ‘stigma’ around men­tal health. Last week, Wil­liam – sprint­ing along­side Kate and Harry – said sui­cide was the big­gest killer of men un­der 40. ‘But there has only ever been si­lence,’ he said. ‘The si­lence is killing good peo­ple.’ In my head, I was ap­plaud­ing them for be­ing so open, ac­tive and nat­u­ral about some­thing that af­fects one in four peo­ple, on a sub­ject the Bri­tish have al­ways found em­bar­rass­ing, shame­ful and taboo. Af­ter all, it wasn’t so long ago that the Queen’s first cousins were banged up in an Asy­lum For Men­tal De­fec­tives in Sur­rey. The fact the Princes are spear­head­ing a cam­paign to nor­malise men­tal health, that their fa­ther is a pa­tron of the Sa­mar­i­tans, and that Dewbs can tell the world that she felt sui­ci­dal is – by any mea­sure – progress.

And when it came time for me to speak, it wasn’t hard to say, on air, that my mother was ad­mit­ted to a men­tal hos­pi­tal when I was seven or so, and my fam­ily have never hid­den the fact she’d had break­downs. It was a part of life. But I’m not sure I would have done what Michelle did, in her 6in Louboutins. I would have wor­ried that, if I’d outed my­self as a se­vere de­pres­sive on prime time, I would never get a job, a hus­band, a fam­ily – even a mort­gage. Ev­ery­one would write me off as a nutjob. A brave nutjob, but a nutjob, none­the­less.

How wrong I was – in fact, I am. Michelle has re­ceived hun­dreds of sup­port­ive tweets, and 300 emails – and also a few mes­sages from peo­ple ques­tion­ing what a ‘suc­cess­ful and at­trac­tive’ (their words, says Dewbs) woman has to be de­pressed about.

And it is the re­ac­tion of these few doubters and de­niers that an­swers my own ques­tion, I think.

Men­tal ill­ness has to be main­stream and it has to go prime time, oth­er­wise peo­ple won’t un­der­stand that de­pres­sion doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate – and suc­cess­ful, at­trac­tive peo­ple like Michelle get it, too.

I NEVER thought any­thing would en­dear Diane Ab­bott to the nation, but smug Brex­i­teer David Davis has man­aged it. When he at­tempted to whisper cheeky re­marks in her ear last week (it was an Ar­ti­cle 50 thing), she told him to ‘f*** off’. What a time to be alive, eh!

SO BRAVE: Ap­pren­tice win­ner Michelle Dew­berry

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