Monday, February 18, 2008

The Scotsman: There's Nothing At All Funny About Depression


STAND–UP comics are often prey to depression. Take John Cleese, Stephen Fry, Paul Merton, Tony Hancock, Kenneth Williams and Spike Milligan as examples.

It does seem that being funny in public equates to being sad in private.

My daughter Ashley went round a bunch of local comics in Glasgow asking them about their lives and deduced that the majority of them have had disturbing childhoods or horrific incidents in their lives that led them into standing up in public and telling jokes.

I myself have never shied away from talking about my difficult childhood and sexual abuse, though I have never suffered from depression.

I am very lucky. It takes a lot to get me feeling down. I tend to deal with an issue in my own way and get on with solving the problem. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Being free from mental health issues is a wonderful feeling, especially when I read an article about the amount of comics who have become suicidal due to the pressure they feel.

People deal with life very differently. From what I understand about depression it can strike anyone at any time. It must be really debilitating and make a person feel so helpless that they can delve deep into their own dark hell. Suicide can be the result.

Depression is on the increase in Britain and the statistics show that this mental illness is affecting more young people than ever before – and yet the government is trying to get some claimants with depression off Incapacity Benefit.

Mental health groups are fighting this policy. The government is making sly assumptions that some young people coming forward with the condition are feckless work-shy scroungers and intend to question them further, to determine who really should be at work.

Depression is indiscriminate. It affects all classes, ages and ethnic groups in the UK.

People who suffer from this condition are unable to work. Though their limbs are fine for lifting boxes and their legs can manage stairs, the very thought of having to deal with the world outside their door can stop them from getting out of bed. That is disabling when it comes to holding down a job.

Self-esteem is eroded and the very core of your soul is shaken when a depressive episode takes hold.

My mother suffered from depression and that affected our whole family and the people who lived around her. Families are often torn apart and marriages suffer terribly when this condition takes hold. I recall coming home from school and being scared of her frightening moods. I was terrified she would harm herself.

Sir Winston Churchill called his dark depression "the black dog", yet he managed to contribute to society in the darkest times of the 20th century while suffering from his awful illness. No-one called him a shirker, nor did they belittle his condition.

The government should be supporting young people who suffer from depression and other mentally disabling conditions. We have thousands of young men and women currently fighting in war zones and the high numbers of military personnel who report back home with various mental issues will need this country's attention, not its derision.

David Freud, great-grandson of Sigmund Freud, is an investment banker who has been hired by James Purnell, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, to shake down the current system.

This is the man who saved Euro Disney and his idea is to get big companies to create jobs for people currently claiming sickness benefit and he will use a "carrot and stick approach" by paying the company money for keeping people in a job for more than three years.

That carrot theory might have worked with Thumper in Disneyland, but enticing companies with cash to get sick people to work is a false economy. Just pump the cash into the NHS and let the private sector decide who they want to employ.

My opinion is this: the majority of people claiming Incapacity Benefit through depression are going to be vigorously examined. The result of this scrutiny will be that some people will be refused Incapacity Benefit and shunted into a lower benefit bracket to save the government cash or they will be forced to take jobs through Mr Freud's scheme.

There are barely enough secure jobs for able-bodied people let alone satisfactory work for those who are living with depression or any other mental illness.

Depression is a killer. Ask The Samaritans. Ask the homeless charities. Just don't ask Gordon Brown. To him and his equally depressing chums – it's a myth.

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