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January 2011



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Allison Pearson

Allison Pearson, author of I Don’t Know How She Does It, has written for the Daily Mail about her depression. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/AP

Kira Cochrane

The Guardian  29 April 2010

Novelist Allison Pearson is the latest in a long line of high-profile women to talk publicly about their depression. All these women had pretty terrific lives – or that’s how it looked from the outside. So what went wrong?

In 2002, Allison Pearson emerged as the chief chronicler of a very modern female malady: the crazed pursuit of the perfect life. Her novel, I Don’t Know How She Does It, which started life as a column in the Daily Telegraph, told the story of that rarely sighted beast, a female hedge fund manager, and followed her struggle to juggle two children with her very full-time job. The protagonist, Kate Reddy, may have had a nanny and a husband who was both gainfully employed and nifty in the kitchen, but her life seemed full of comic anxieties. (The novel opened with her attempts to “distress” some Sainsbury’s mince pies that her daughter was taking to school, so that they looked appropriately, maternally, handmade.) And while the book depicted an aspirational bubble that floats way over most of our heads, it found an immediate audience. In fact, it became a bestseller, the film rights were sold, and Oprah Winfrey – that essential filter of the modern female experience – described it as a “bible for the working mother”.

In her worldly success, and her approach to life, it was assumed that Pearson was very similar to her protagonist. She’s a high-flying journalist who has won a number of awards; her partner is New Yorker writer Anthony Lane; she has two children. In precis, it’s a convincing portrait of a perfect life. But yesterday, her comic tone was jettisoned. Pearson has been writing for the Daily Mail for some years now, but this column was to be her last, she said, because she has depression. She had always wanted to be “the best kind of girl”, but recently she found herself in a psychiatrist’s consulting room, assessing just how unhappy she was. The psychiatrist asked if she’d had any suicidal thoughts, and “I didn’t mention the strange allure of a nearby motorway bridge at dead of night . . . Eventually, I blurted into the silence: ‘Sometimes, I think it would be easier not to be. Not to be dead. I have two children, I can’t leave them. But just to stop, you know. To not exist for a while.”

Pearson went on to describe herself as a “sandwich woman”, one of a generation who had waited until their 30s to have children and then, just as their offspring were “sleeping through the night, one of [their] parents fell ill”. The stress of this situation – and a job on top – has taken its toll. “Is it women who are mad, or is it the society we live in?” she asked. “We always suspected there would be a price for Having it All, and we were happy to pay it; but we didn’t know the cost would be to our mental health.”

Over the last few months, many other stories like Pearson’s have emerged – tales of apparently enviable lives laid low. In January, the popular novelist Marian Keyes posted a message on her website attesting to her “crippling depression . . . I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t write, I can’t read, I can’t talk to people”. In February, an inquest found that the bestselling author Susan Morgan – who wrote under the pen name Zoe Barnes – had killed herself. In March, on Desert Island Discs, the actor Emma Thompson recalled the depression she had experienced after her divorce from Kenneth Branagh in the mid-1990s, saying that she didn’t think she had stayed “sane. I should have sought professional help.” And over the last few years, a number of memoirs of depression have been written by women. The former Elle and Red magazine editor, Sally Brampton, wrote Shoot the Damn Dog. The former Scotland editor of the Observer, Lorna Martin, wrote Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. And the former deputy literary editor of the Observer, Stephanie Merritt, published The Devil Within. The mood of these memoirs was captured in a long, unflinching article by the American writer Daphne Merkin in the New York Times, in which she described her depression as “the sadness that runs under the skin of things, like blood, beginning as a trickle and ending up as a haemorrhage, staining everything”.

This deluge shouldn’t come as a surprise; over a period of decades, study after study has suggested that women are diagnosed with depression at twice the rate of men; in recent years, one study found this specific ratio occurring across nine different countries, regardless of economics and culture. As Merritt, who has written widely on the subject, points out, these findings are open to question – “because it’s possible that, for men, drug and alcohol abuse could be symptoms of a depression that they just can’t articulate. It could be that women are more able to ask for help.” But there is no doubt that the numbers regarding women and depression are stark – 11.2% of the female population are experiencing it at any one time.

Read in Full:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/apr/29/women-depression-allison-pearson

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