April 4, 2012

Paul Brooks blogs for Time to ChangeI want to apologise to Robbie Williams.

This may seem an odd statement, as the Take That star and I have never met and I haven't done anything to upset him. But a few years ago I remember hearing that he was depressed, and thinking to myself: "What's he got to be depressed about? He's rich, famous, talented, successful - yep, it must really be terrible being him."

Only now I have experienced depression myself do I realise that it doesn't care what you have or who you are. It doesn't care how many fans you have or how many top ten hits you have. It is an illness and it can affect anyone. Take Frankie Sandford, of The Saturdays, for example. She's a beautiful, talented, successful young woman, yet her experience of depression made her feel "worthless and ugly. I felt if I disappeared it wouldn't matter at all".

The work she is doing to highlight the reality of depression is both brave and brilliant. So what is so brilliant about it? Frankie is an idol for young people, some of whom will be going through depression themselves, and others of whom might not have a clue about the damage it can do. Her story will reach and inspire many more people than a non-famous blogger like me ever could, because she is also a major star in the media, whose words will appear in all kinds of high-profile places. I think it's fantastic, and, as I've written before, if there is one silver lining to depression it's being able to share your experiences with other people who are in the same boat, and perhaps raise awareness among the people who aren't.

Although they have glamorous lifestyles that many people envy, celebrities are human after all. And if one in four people will suffer from depression at some point in their lives, it stands to reason that this is happening to them too. It has happened to me. I smile a lot, I laugh a lot, I have a lovely wife and children, I have a job and I live in a nice place, so what do I have to be depressed about? I'm not the sort of person who gets depressed, am I?

Well, yes, actually. It is very easy, and common, for depression to be muddle up with feeling depressed. Feeling depressed happens to everyone at some point. There are all kinds of reasons why you might feel down about something. But depression is not a passing feeling. Nor is it a choice. It is not as if the likes of Robbie and Frankie sat themselves down and decided they fancied being depressed, and could just snap out of it when they'd got bored of it or when someone else told them to. Depression is a horrible mental and physical illness that feasts on stress and gorges on negative thinking, which it whisks up into a whirling vortex and relentlessly beats you about the brain with. Whoever you are.

So, sorry Robbie. You're now one of a growing number of famous people - like Frankie - who I respect enormously for talking openly and descriptively about their experiences of depression. As for the lesser-known or unknown people who are going through this ordeal, well - and be warned, this is going to sound cheesy - we may not have fans, we may not have a ready-made audience, but we do have each other, and we can get through this, one day at a time.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.