Stephen Fry: Wordsmith, provocateur extraordinaire, stupendously intelligent, extraordinary wit, deliciously good author and person with bipolar.
Stephen has cyclothymic disorder, a mild form of bipolar where a person has mood swings over a period of years that go from mild depression to euphoria and excitement. Fry affectiontally labelled his bipolar “bipolar lite”.
The topsy turvy experience of celebrity and bipolar
Many celebrities wrestle with bipolar and publicly speak about condition, such as Linda Hamilton, Jean Claude Van Damme and Carrie Fisher. Stephen Fry’s following comment encapsulates the sometimes symbiotic relationship between bipolar, fame and artistry:
It’s tormented me all my life with the deepest of depressions while giving me the energy and creativity that perhaps has made my career. *
A long struggle with loneliness and pain
Stephen Fry was troubled at school and nearly got expelled many times. His depression started to surface during his school years although it may have just looked like bad behaviour. At the age of 17 he was suicidal and attempted to kill himself.
His television career took off with a 1982 broadcasting of The Cellar Tapes, the 1981 Cambridge Footlights Revue. This performance included famous actors as:
All of them suffered different forms of severe depression in their lifetime. Depression tends to be prevalent amongst those gifted with both intellect and creativity.
Consistent with many other bipolar stories, such as Linda Hamilton, it took many years before a proper clinical diagnosis was given to Stephen Fry. He received the diagnosis at the age of 37. If a week is a long time in politics, then twenty years is an eternity for someone with mental health problems, as these years are often spent in confusion, fear and pain. One of the keys to recovery from depression is receiving an accurate diagnosis.
The low point, and the turning of the tide
In 1995 Stephen Fry came very close to committing suicide by gassing himself in the car. According to The Independent, he had been starring in a West End Play but vanished after critical reviews. He contemplated suicide before going missing in Europe for a week and then received psychological treatment in the US. This treatment set him in the right direction for a better understanding of the nature of this condition and how to manage it more successfully.
Please take the time to watch the following video which speaks of his near suicide attempt and his struggles with depression
In the video Stephen Fry likens the experience of being depressed to like being a storm – you can’t choose to see the sun when it’s raining and cloudy.
The power of the depressed mood causes bipolar to be a lethal condition. Despite being a treatable condition, somewhere between 5-15% of sufferers of bipolar see no way out of their condition and take their lives.*
Moving onwards and upwards
After making a solid recovery Stephen Fry has received much fame and renown. He has won many accolades for his efforts to raise awareness for gay rights and bipolar. He writes books, hosts TV shows and documentaries and keeps feeding his massive twitter following with humorous observations on life.
His condition is not without ongoing challenges. When shooting the documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, a documentary we’ve included at the base of this article, he fell into a numbing depression which he acknowledges comes over him a couple of times a year. Stephen Fry is passionate about mental health awareness and destigmatisation. In a thoughtful quote mentioned on the Disability Now site Stephen Fry likens the experience of mental health with homosexuality in terms of its alienating and marginalising effects:
“People can get beaten up in parks for looking as if they have a mental health problem by cruel children and they can get beaten up in parks for looking gay. So there are similarities in the violence and contempt that the worst sections of society extend towards both classes of person, but there are obvious differences too.” *
We commend his work in championing the cause of mental health and wish him all the best in his recovery as he continues to enrich the lives of millions.
How Stephen Fry Beats Depression
Stephen does a lot to destigmatise the bipolar condition. He is chairman for Mind, a key mental health organisation and also works with Stand to Reason, another great organisation promoting mental health and social justice.
After his near suicide attempt in 1995 Stephen embarked in a long course of psychological treatment as he game to grips with better understanding and managing his condition. We highly recommend viewing the documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, as it documents his recovery and insight into his condition.
Stephen Fry is a prolific worker with talents in many areas. He also is very keen on technology and communications and loves listening to Audiobooks. Doing work is critical to recovery from depression, see our section on unemployment to see why this is so.
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References and further reading