Public's attitude to depression needs to change
Comedian David Walliams’s candid account of his suffering can help to destigmatise illness, writes DAVID ADAMS
IN RECENTLY released extracts from his upcoming autobiography, Camp David, author/actor/comedian David Walliams revealed that he has tried to take his own life on a number of occasions.
Apparently he first attempted suicide when aged 12. His latest attempt was nine years ago. It required a great deal of courage for Walliams to be so candid about the periodic bouts of deep depression that have plagued and sometimes threatened his life.
He would have known that for the foreseeable future he will be asked in every interview to explain and elaborate on these revelations, and that reference will be made to them in every pen portrait and feature article concerning him.
In his private interactions, as well as in the eyes of the media and the public, his tendency to depression and the suicide attempts will now partly define him. Yet this may well have been his intention. I suspect that Walliams, like Stephen Fry before him, has made a conscious effort to try to destigmatise a particular mental illness by revealing he is a sufferer and describing the depths of despair to which his illness has sometimes taken him.
If that is the case, he is to be doubly admired for his candour. Depression is among society’s last great taboos. Consigned by fear and ignorance to the shadows, it is the ailment that still dare not speak its name. Any attempt to nudge it towards the sunlight, into the realms of public understanding and genuine acceptance should be wholeheartedly welcomed.
Unfortunately, that hoped-for destination is far distant from where we are now. Consider, for instance, the tenor of much of the media reaction to the Walliams revelations. Most newspaper headlines and many reports, while not overtly unsympathetic, spoke of Walliams having admitted rather than disclosed that he has tried to take his own life.
This suggested blame on his part. The Daily Mail even wrote of Walliams having revealed a “darker side to his personality”. What darker side? This was not a rapist or a child molester being reported upon, but someone who suffers from depression.
In the same Daily Mail report, which was accompanied by photographs of Walliams and his wife going out to dinner, there was the following observation: “Writing openly about his depression has clearly been [a] cathartic experience for the children’s author and he seems on top form after admitting to his problems. Far from hiding himself away after the startling admissions, the charity fundraiser has decided to hold his head high and take his wife out on the town.”