Stephen Fry is a fascinating man. The word polymath is often used about him to show the many skills, talents and abilities this great man has. But for me his biggest contribution to British culture is his honesty and openness about his struggles with mental health issues. He revealed that he tried to kill himself last year, while recording a podcast with Richard Herring. It’s not only a brave thing to talk about it, but an essential one.
While filming abroad he filled himself with vodka and pills and tried to kill himself. If the producer who was with him hadn’t found him we would be a national institution down. Fry has been diagnosed as bi-polar a mental illness that has become quite “fashionable”, to use completely the wrong word, amongst both celebrities and the general public. People don’t seem to understand what it means and that you are completely at the mercy of your moods and mind. He said that “There is no ‘why’, it’s not the right question. There’s no reason. If there were a reason for it, you could reason someone out of it, and you could tell them why they shouldn’t take their own life.” He is on medication but it doesn’t always stop the extremes breaking through and affecting your life in ways such as this.
I remember seeing the documentary he did called The Secret life of the Manic Depressive on BBC a few years ago and was awakened to the possibility that I had something in my own head that wasn’t “normal”. It took me several years to approach a doctor about my own issues and it is always at the back of mind that if I hadn’t, would I have been in the kind of frame of mind that I didn’t want to exist anymore? My condition is much simpler and moderate than Stephen’s and I’m in no way trying to compare myself to him, but for each person who fights against their own mind it is a welcome insight into a condition that many will not understand or know of. Stephen Fry’s candidness and position as the president of the charity Mind, that works with people with Mental Health issues, shows that he is using the fame he has found to help others to come to terms, understand or just have a general awareness of mental illness.
There are still taboos about discussing sicknesses of the mind in public which groups like Mind and Time to Change are working hard to combat and get the message through, and in the last few years I think that there have been successes in raising awareness and understanding. Fry is one of the reasons there have been these breakthroughs. There should not be a stigma around it – it is an illness the same as cancer or diabetes, there is not blame attached to those who have these illnesses and the same is true for depression, anxiety disorder, bi-polar and other mental conditions.
I hope Stephen finds the support around him enough to carry on and learn to adapt constantly to the needs he has. He is a great man and I hope he is around for a lot longer.
You can find out more about mental health issues at: