Yesterday started rainy and cloudy in the morning and turned into one of those beautiful afternoons that I call a “bonus day” (because I hadn’t expected it to turn out sunny). We get long evenings this time of year in the UK – there is still sun at 8 pm – so I decided to go out for a long walk to wherever my legs took me.
On a whim, I decided to take the right turn when I hit the River Colne, in the direction of Wivenhoe. I usually turn left as that snakes back in towards and around town, so I can end my walk at any point without being too far from my house. The Wivenhoe route takes me further away with every step. But it is nicer and I wanted to do something a bit different for the bonus day.
Only along the route did I put two and two together: that somewhere along this same path the body of a young woman, a student at Essex University, had been found the previous day. I had read about it in the paper. The police had said there were “no suspicious circumstances”, which is the code word for suicide. I felt awful to think — on a day when I felt so glad to be alive – that a promising young life had ended tragically, leaving behind a lifetime of grief and sadness for her family and friends.
In recent years, some excellent work has been done to break the taboo over mental health and depression, not least by the younger members of the British royal family. Last month, Prince Harry revealed that he had sought counselling over the sudden loss of his mother, Princess Diana, at a young age.
Prince William and his wife Kate have spoken out on the issue on numerous occasions, often in ground-breaking ways. They did a live interview on Radio One (popular with young people) last month to help promote the fact that one of the station’s DJs, Adele Roberts, was running in the London Marathon to raise awareness of mental health issues and raise money for mental health charities.
It wasn’t a deadly serious show. The couple also talked about how when they order a take-away curry they have to send a car to collect it, because it might be assumed to be a prank to ask for it to be delivered to Kensington Palace.
Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has spoken out about anorexia and other eating disorders, which particularly affect young women and can be life-threatening. She has also spoken about post-natal depression.
Of course, sterling work has been done on all these issues by charities and health organisations for many years. But getting backing and encouragement from royals and celebrities helps spread the message and give it wider acceptance.
I don’t know the circumstances in which a young student died in my town but as many as one in four people will suffer from some sort of mental illness in their lifetimes. A lot of people have times when the weight of the world seems to bear down on them. I had my own experience and don’t know how I would have coped without the help of an insightful doctor and the support of a friend I can never repay.
Depression and mental illness is not to be ashamed of. It’s important to seek help if you need it. That help should be available. You need not die of it.