Mental Health

Article by Linda Gillard from the Depression Alliance newsletter

Detail of one of Linda's quilts

I wrote a novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY about bi-polar affective disorder, depression and suicidality. Itís not fictionalised autobiography but sadly Iím qualified to write about these subjects with some authority being a long-term sufferer from depression and mild bi-polar affective disorder (aka manic depression.)

Iíve been a member of Depression Alliance Scotland and when I lived in England I was a member of Depression Alliance. I donít remember how I first heard of DA but I do remember receiving my first newsletter and weeping with relief to find that I was not an isolated lunatic, there were lots of people like me with exactly the same problems. Some of them had even found solutions. DA helped me accept that I wasnít going mad, I was ill. A lot of people, sick and well, have trouble making that distinction. Thatís one of the reasons I wrote EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, for the 26% (according to a DA survey) who donít believe mental illness is a genuine illness.

Chances are, if youíre reading this youíre already a member of DA. (If you arenít - join. You wonít regret it. And donít let your membership lapse when you get better. Your subscription makes sure that the precious service is there when someone else needs it.) If you are a member, you might still be ill or recovering. You might be struggling today, looking for help, someone or something to hang on to, to stop you falling back into The Pit.

So, for all of you who, like me, struggle on a daily basis with Bloody Life, here are some suggestions from the ďIt worked for meĒ dept:

1. Cry. You may fear (like Alice) to drown in a pool of tears but you wonít. What you will do is grieve for your life. (Healthy process). If nothing else, crying tires you out so you can sleep. (Another healthy process.) You maybe need to cry, especially if youíre male. See tears as part of a healing process.

2. Read. Try to read at least a poem a day. Take a look at the STAYING ALIVE anthology. (Norman McCaig on landscape and wildlife makes me think life might be worth living.)

3. Write. A journal, a story, an email, a letter, a list. There is a useful and inspiring book by Louise de Salvo, WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING. That book got me writing the novel that became EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY.

4. Sing. Play loud, energising rock music. Something with lyrics to make you think, lyrics worth singing along with. I have a young friend who reckons Springsteen saved her life when she was suicidal. I think he probably saved mine too. Play Born to Run and feel depressed. I dare you.

5. Live. Say to yourself over and over, "Living well is the best revenge". Believe it. Survive, despite everything. Spit in the eye of fate. Which brings me to...

6. Get ANGRY!! Depression is internalised anger - fact. Iíve found if I externalise anger - yes, that can get messy and loud - the depression doesn't get as much of a hold and it passes sooner. (Actually, if you can work out who you're angry with and why, you'll be well on the way to recovery.)

I donít have all the answers, in fact I donít have any answers, but these strategies helped me. I share them with you and hope sincerely that they help. If they donít, you can still think of me as someone who became ill, stopped working (for years), was suicidal, then found a road to recovery (and Iím not recovered, merely recovering). I went from cracked-up teacher to published novelist. I re-invented myself at 53. If I can do it, then so might you.

Famous manic depressives - a celebration 

Linda Gillard at the launch of
Scottish Recovery Network's

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY features a manic depressive textile artist. Manic depression (properly known as bipolar affective disorder) is a mental illness that many creative and high-achieving people have suffered from.

A documentary, Stephen Fry - The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive was shown on BBC2 in 2006. In the programme Fry says, "At the age of 37, I had a diagnosis that explained the massive highs and miserable lows I've lived with all my life."

The following is a list of people who suffer from or are thought to have suffered from bipolar affective disorder (aka manic depression.)

Caroline Aherne, Alexander the Great, Margery Allingham, Hans Christian Andersen, Adam Ant, Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, William Blake, James Boswell, Russell Brand, Jeremy Brett, Emily Bronte, Robert Burns, Byron, Anna Carteret, Chopin, Winston Churchill, John Clare, Kurt Cobain, Coleridge, Christopher Columbus, Patricia Cornwell, Noel Coward, Charles Darwin, Ray Davies (of The Kinks), Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Donizetti, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexandre Dumas, Thomas Edison, Einstein, T S Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sir Richard Eyre, William Faulkner, Richard Feynman, Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, Peter Gabriel, Alan Garner, Goethe, Gogol, Goya, Macy Gray, Graham Greene, Ivor Gurney, Linda Hamilton, Tony Hancock, Handel, Ernest Hemingway, Jimi Hendrix, Herman Hesse, Catherine Zeta Jones, Kerry Katona, Keats, Otto Klemperer, Vivien Leigh, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Lowell, Mahler, Herman Melville, Michelangelo, Edna St Vincent Millay, Spike Milligan, Marilyn Monroe, Mozart, Edvard Munch, Mussorgsky, Lord Nelson, Isaac Newton, Florence Nightingale, Sinead O'Connor, Bill Oddie, Ozzy Osbourne, Picasso, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Cole Porter, Axl Rose, Rossini, Rubens, John Ruskin, Margaret Rutherford, Schumann, Nina Simone, Robert Louis Stevenson, Tony Slattery, Ben Stiller, Strindberg, James Taylor, Tchaikovsky, Dylan Thomas, Tolstoy. J M W Turner, Mark Twain, Jean-Claude van Damme. Van Gogh, Kurt Vonnegut, Tennessee Williams, Brian Wilson, Hugo Wolf, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecroft



Linda's first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY,
available as an ebook & paperback.

Rose, a manic depressive, talks to her psychiatrist.

"We can ease the pain, Rose, you know we canÖ and you can make something out of it, something positive. You of all people will know how to make a silk purse out of this particularly nasty sow's ear."

"Ha, ha, very funny."

"You will survive. You will grow as a result of all this. I've seen it happen many times. Your illness is a terrible gift. It makes you see things differently, it makes you create. Without it you would probably not be an artist, a maker. And if you didn't make things, who would you be? After all, isn't that the reason you stopped taking your medication?"

"But the pain in my head..."

"It will pass, believe me. But you must let us help you."

"If a dog or a horse suffered like this you would put it down!"

"The fact that you can articulate that thought shows how far you are from being a dog or a horse."

"But why should I have to suffer more than them?"

"You don't. You have choices, Rose. Very hard ones."

"What do you mean?"

"You could have killed yourself. If you had slashed your throat instead of your wrists I doubt you would have survived."

"I wanted to die!"

"You no longer wanted to live."

"Is there a difference?"

"Oh, yes, a great deal of differenceÖ We can do very little for those who want to die."

From EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY , available in ebook & paperback formats.


Linda Gillard interviewed for mental health podcast
Linda was one of four artists interviewed in CREATIVE MINDS, a 25-minute podcast about mental
health & creatvity made for the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 2012.

Listen to the CREATIVE MINDS podcast.


PTSD features in Linda Gillard's novel, UNTYING THE KNOT. The hero is a war veteran suffering from late-onset PTSD. The following information is taken from the COMBAT STRESS website.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a complex and debilitating condition that can affect every aspect of a person's life. It is a psychological response to the experience of an event (or events) of an intensely traumatic nature. These type of events often involve a risk to life Ė one's own or that of one's colleagues. It is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or culture.

PTSD has been known to exist since ancient times, albeit under the guise of different names. During the First World War it was referred to as "shell shock"; as "war neurosis" during WWII; and as "combat stress reaction" during the Vietnam War. In the 1980s the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was introduced Ė the term we still use today.

Although PTSD was first brought to public attention by war veterans, it can result from any number of traumatic incidents. The common denominator is exposure to a threatening event that has provoked intense fear, horror or a sense of helplessness in the individual concerned. The sort of traumatic events that might be experienced by members of the general public include physical assault, rape, accidents or witnessing the death or injury of others Ė as well as natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and fires.

In the case of serving personnel, traumatic events mostly relate to the direct experience of combat, to operating in a dangerous war-zone, or to taking part in difficult and distressing peace-keeping operations.

PTSD: Frequently Asked Questions (from the COMBAT STRESS website.)

Q: How long does it take to show signs of PTSD?

A: In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, it is normal for people to experience some of the typical symptoms of PTSD. However, if symptoms are prolonged for more than one month, a clinical diagnosis of PTSD would be made.

Many people may not report or even recognise the symptoms they are suffering from as trauma- or service-related. An individual may suffer for years in silence before finally trying to get treatment. Often the death of a spouse, loss of a job, or anniversaries such as Remembrance Day can be the final straw that leads the veteran to ask for help.

Delayed onset PTSD is rarer. In these cases PTSD presents many months or years after traumatic exposure, with no history of any prior mental health symptoms. Recent studies show that delayed onset PTSD is more common after the service man has left the military, and usually manifests in the first year after release. Delayed onset PTSD is also more common in the veteran population than it is among civilians.

Q: What is the average length of time it takes for veterans with mental health problems to seek help from Combat Stress?

A: Our latest figures show that it takes more than 14 years from service discharge to making first contact with Combat Stress.

Q: Is PTSD curable?

A: PTSD is easier to treat the earlier the person presents with it. The longer it has been present, the more chronic it becomes and the more difficult it is to treat. Many patients do well because they persevere in therapy and do not give up. It is important to be patient, and not expect an illness that has been present for many years to be cured within a few weeks or months.

Q: Is PTSD the only response to trauma?

A: No. People can develop a whole range of other problems, which can exist alone or co-exist with their PTSD. Anxiety symptoms, depression, use of alcohol and illicit drugs, problems with relationships, work and family function are common. In addition, exposure to severe stress may exacerbate physical illnesses, such as some skin complaints, as well as chronic pain.