I went to Leicester last week to interview Sue Townsend, the comic novelist. Was surprised to be told that she had received mental health treatment after the worldwide success of her first books.
Of course, as one would expect from the creator of Adrian Mole, her descriptions of her first therapy sessions were funny. She paid £25 for a single session with a private therapist who asked her to “beat a cushion with an African stick. . . and shout. I had to shout whilst beating this harmless cushion with this great big rounded-at-the-end stick.”
Terrified that acquaintances in Leicester would hear her — “the problem was that the doors in the NHS building were thin, just a panel of plywood, flimsy; you could hear every sound” — Sue declined.
Eventually she found another therapist and after several sessions felt happier. Now she thinks her depression was caused partly by feeling that people who met her would find her boring. She thought they would want someone “more like Barbara Taylor Bradford, in furs”.
Sue’s new book The Woman who went to Bed for a Year, is about Eva, a mother and housewife on the edge of a breakdown who retreats to the safety of her duvet. “Have I ever felt like staying in bed for a year?” Sue said. “I don’t know a woman who hasn’t.”
A mother of four, she thinks there’s an epidemic of mental illness in tbe UK. Money hasn’t made us happy, she says.
Eva is saved by the love of a tiny core of people. Anti depressants are of limited value, suggests Sue. Therapy can help, but it’s love and kindness that really count.
Read the whole interview in today’s Sunday Times. And if you have a comment on this issue do get in touch.