‘I couldn’t make myself happy’: Comedian Susan Calman on being in a ‘terrible’ place

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Appearing on shows across the BBC including Great British Menu and Strictly Come Dancing Susan has led a hugely successful career with a sense of humour that has carried her through it all. Yet away from the funny side of things Susan has also been open about her struggles with mental health. Using a clever tactic to talk about the more serious but important topics Susan said: “If you make people laugh, you can tell them things that might otherwise be uncomfortable.”

One topic that Susan hints might make people feel uncomfortable is depression – something she has suffered with herself.

Writing about her experience with the mental health condition in her book Cheer Up Love: Adventures In Depression With The Crab, Susan said: “I very much wanted to make it a fun book.

“To try and explain exactly what the depression is like, you have to be quite honest about it.”

In order to cope with the condition Susan personified her depression. “The Crab of Hate” is a constant companion in her life.

“Unsurprisingly, after years of keeping quiet everything fell apart in a rather horrific way. I tried to kill myself. I took a load of pills one day because I just couldn’t see any way out.”

The NHS explains that depression is more than just a feeling of unhappiness. Individuals who are diagnosed with clinical depression can feel symptoms that will affect them physically, emotionally and socially.

Mind – a mental health charity – explains some of the common signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Down, upset or tearful
  • Restless, agitated or irritable
  • Guilty, worthless and down on yourself
  • Empty and numb
  • Isolated and unable to relate to other people
  • Finding no pleasure in life or things you usually enjoy
  • A sense of unreality
  • No self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Hopeless and despairing
  • Suicidal.

Behavioural signs and symptoms include:

  • Avoiding social events and activities you usually enjoy
  • Self-harming or suicidal behaviour
  • Difficulty speaking, thinking clearly or making decisions
  • Losing interest in sex
  • Difficulty remembering or concentrating on things
  • Using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • No appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight
  • Physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause
  • Moving very slowly, or being restless and agitated.

When taking part on Strictly Come Dancing Susan said how the show helped to boost her mood.

She said: “The joy I’m getting from performing is helping my mood and how I feel about things. Being part of the show feels amazing and every day I absolutely appreciate what’s happening.”

She added that she never entered the show to win but instead wanted to provide entertainment not just for her but for viewers watching at home.

Susan continued: “Having a contestant like me on the biggest show on television with my wife and parents there gives an incredibly positive message.”

What causes depression?

The NHS states that depression can be triggered by life-changing events such as bereavement, losing your job or giving birth.

In addition, someone with a family history of depression are more likely to experience it for themselves and are more likely to become depressed for no obvious reason.

Treatments for mental health conditions such as depression have developed massively over the years. If you have mild depression, your doctor may suggest waiting to see whether it improves on its own, while monitoring your progress. This is known as “watchful waiting”.

For those who have more severe depression, medical professionals recommend talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as well as antidepressants. Usually a combination of the two works well. For those suffering with suicidal thoughts the Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours a day on 116 123.

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