The most shocking thing about the tragic death of fashion designer and former model L’Wren Scott at the weekend seems, for most people, to be that she ‘had it all’.
Regularly photographed on the red carpet at glitzy events; an international jet-setter with a fabulous lifestyle and a celebrity boyfriend; and working in probably the most glamorous and envied industry on the planet, it certainly looked like a perfect life. Scott had a clothing line in Banana Republic and dressed some of the world’s best-known celebrities.
But as she said herself in a magazine interview in 2011, appearances can be deceptive; you can never know what’s going on in somebody else’s head.
Reports from newspapers that the fashion designer’s company was millions in debt, that her relationship with Mick Jagger was in trouble, and various other ‘explanations’ for her tragic decision to take her own life, are trying to rationalise the most terrible decision somebody can make, but they completely miss the point.
Somebody in mental crisis doesn’t need a reason to be depressed. Depression can hit anyone, at any time, in any circumstances.
They don’t need a reason to feel suicidal. There is no rationalising such a decision.
Look at the high profile, successful, charming, witty and beautiful people who have tragically taken their own lives over the years.
Celebrated artists, musicians and businesspeople are not immune to suicidal thoughts or impulses, and nothing about their outward lives may give away their inner anguish.
Kurt Cobain, Alexander McQueen and Ernest Hemingway all took their own lives.
In recent years the world, and Irish society in particular, has become more accepting of depression, although, worryingly, a survey last year revealed that one-third of Irish people would not vote for a politician if they knew he or she had suffered from depression.
A host of well-known figures have ‘come out’ about their mental anguish over the past number of years, to a world that is gradually learning to accept depression and mental illness as ordinary parts of the human condition.
One of the world’s favourite actors, Stephen Fry, has been open and honest about his struggles with depression. He is witty, accomplished, wealthy, and the ideal dinner party guest for everyone but himself. The self-loathing that accompanies depression is something people who don’t suffer from it can’t rationalise, because it’s not rational.
It’s an illness.
Closer to home, the multi-award winning novelist Marian Keyes has been open about her battles with depression. On twitter, she is a sunny, engaging and chatty presence, until she disappears for a while, and her followers know she has been hit by a bad bout of the black dog.
Broadcaster George Hook has discussed how he came close to taking his own life, and how the help of a friend, who told him, simply, that he has value, saved him from taking that terrible step. Hook has made a point of being open about his mental health, and letting people know that it needs to be managed.
Cork hurler Conor Cusack has also been upfront about his struggles with depression, and his example has hopefully provided some hope for those who are suffering.
Despite all the celebrity examples, mental illness is not confined to celebrities, media personalities, or ‘artistic types’. They say there’s a fine line between genius and madness, but you don’t have to be a genius to have depression, either. You just have to have depression, and nobody else will know you do, unless you tell them.
As Scott herself said, in a 2011 interview with Harpers’ Bazaar “You’ll see the most perfect person and you are like, God, she’s, like, perfect. And then she’ll tell you everything that’s not perfect. Everyone has their own special set of problems, in their own minds.”
This article was originally published in the Herald.
For this week’s Cork Independent, I interviewed *Mary from West Cork, who told me of her battle with depression – and how she’s learned to manage it.