Everything I write about here is personal – my worries about the future of the art form I love so much is about as heartfelt as it gets – but this post is something different, and I must apologise if it makes some of you uncomfortable. Actually no, scratch that: I make no apology. The whole point of this is hopefully to make some people less uncomfortable about an issue on which I have never spoken publicly.

Someone recently pointed out that whilst I talk often about my Dad, I rarely, if ever, mention my mother. My friends are careful never to mention her either, and it led me to the realisation that even those closest to me feel that she is too sensitive an issue to mention. Well, following the horrible Asda and Tesco Halloween costume controversy, it’s about time we all addressed the stigmatisation of those with mental ill health.

My mum suffered from mental health issues throughout my childhood and spent a good deal of time in and out of various institutions that tried to help her overcome her illness.

Now, I’ve seen a similar reaction to that information many times: when you tell people that a close family member has an illness such as cancer, people know how to react; comfort, succour and a whole range of support. When you tell them that a parent has a mental health problem people simply don’t know what to say. Even now amongst kind, intelligent people, this disease has the power to scare and shame. I’m not suggesting for a moment that all my wonderful friends have been in any way lacking, rather that to talk about this often induces a form of instant social paralysis. After a while I learnt that the easiest thing is simply not to talk about her in order to reduce the discomfort of those with whom I enjoy spending time. I find myself in a position where very few people, even close friends, have the slightest inkling about any of this, rather only a vague notion that she is not someone I like to talk about. That is a terrible failing on my part.

I want to state here that a mental illness is an illness like any other. Should you ever find yourself in the position of talking to a sufferer or to someone close to a sufferer, please treat it as a disease and look past the illness to the person underneath. More importantly, should you find that you yourself are suffering – even mildly – seek help. Medical science is coming to understand more than ever before about how the mind  works and how to fix it when it goes wrong.

For my mum though, the treatments of the 20th century didn’t work. She took her own life just before I was about to leave for university, removing from the world one of the most kind-hearted, loving and sensitive people I have ever met.

Whilst I’m saddened and angered by what she did, I’ll never be ashamed of who she was.





  • What a beautiful, and brave, post, Jim. I’m sure your mother would be proud of her kind-hearted, loving and sensitive son.

  • Oh goodness i just cried a few tears. I personally think that everyone at some point in their lives tackles issues that originate in the mind and the functioning of it.. Whether it be in relation to their weight and appearance, how we handle tragedy/challenges or don’t handle them… The way we are and how we are stems from the mind.. Some have the strength to over come difficult times themselves and others may require further assistance from friends or medical intervention..
    I’m a firm believer that if we were able to talk and encouraged to be more open about when we feel up/ down/ strong or weak then out issues could be solved with out a prescription of chemicals which ultimately can only confuse and cloud the mind further..? If there was no stigma and it wasn’t seen as a sign of weakness to talk then we’d all be a lot happier. I guarantee that the people you think don’t suffer with depression etc most likely do or have done.. It’s just having the strength to address it..
    Having taken anti depressants in the past I can say that they did not help me organise my life or address the stresses in it, I did that in the end. I spoke to those I wanted to about my issues and took strength ( as I do now) from wonderful people in my life. I choose not to be around negative people where possible..
    And james as for your beautiful mother and my beautiful auntie you should most Definately talk about her..she was indeed a gorgeous woman who I always was excited and happy to be around. I loved looking at her and remember she had perfect skin and hair. She made me laugh. I think she’d maybe have laughed at the costume in asda and made some witty comment about it! Had we have been older and wiser as we are now I’m pretty sure we’d have been able to help her address her problems..I think from here on you should mention her to everyone you meet and the stories you have in your mind of her..and if the issues she had come up talk about them if you feel you can x

  • Saddened also by the loss of your Mother and equally touched by you eloquent disgust at Asda’s dreadful choice to portray those with mental health problems as worthy of a Halloween costume.

    We have mental health problems in our family. I say ‘our’ as it is easier than saying ‘I’ and because it effects those I live with and care for the most. Almost as horrid as the clinical anxiety is the guilt and shame and the lack of comfort that comes from chatting to friends about it. I still find myself frustrated when I am asked why I spent 5 years at Uni… I want to say that I suffered with mental health problems, had to leave, restart second year and it tainted what was a fantastic time. I want to say it with the same matter of fact than if I had broken my leg…..or maybe asthma… But end up changing the subject.

    Its getting better 10 years on. More people understand and less people freak out (Asda seemed to have missed this enlightenment) Wish your Mum was still around to be able to benefit from this and the treatments around now.

    I would like to think that in 10 years time people felt free to ‘come out’ as having difficulties with mental health and therefore get help before it takes over.

    Hope you are well :-)

  • Thank you for posting this, James.

    Liz L
  • Good on you Jim for having courage to share something as important and personal with us. No one should be ashamed of having a disease, and no one should let fear stop them from seeking treatment or helping a loved one receive treatment, if only to improve their own lives and those around them whom they love.

    Maelcom of Zion
  • I realise how hard this must have been for you to talk about James, and bravo for sharing your story. I myself suffered from a period of depression after having been treated for Cancer back in 2001. It is something I never talk about for fear of how people will react.

    Ulster Musician
  • One thing that the reaction to this post has shown me is just how common this illness is and yet we are all afraid to talk about it. I suspect almost everyone will suffer to a certain degree at some point in their lives or certainly know someone who does. How nice would it be if we treated it the same way as flu? Thanks to all of you for your kind comments.

    James Lowe
  • Thanks for this Jim. It helps me recall moments of sharing and reflection. The disturbing thing about the Asda gaffe is the lack of awareness of the impact such insensitivity might have on the fragile coping mechanisms that sufferers may be working on – it’s hard enough for many people to keep their head above water without having callous commercialism pushing it back down again.

  • It’s funny how we react to depression and feel that it is a subject we shouldn’t talk about, that it is something to be ashamed of, when what actually helps is to be open and talk to others about it. Perhaps it’s part of our national psyche! Having been through periods of depression as a student and later in life, the support of friends and family, as well as health professionals is paramount in getting to the light at the end of the tunnel, and prioritising the important things in life. Ther should be no stigmatising of the subject as we all can be a victim, just as easily as we can catch the cold.

  • I appreciate this post so much Jim, thank you. And I know some of my friends do too.

  • Much appreciated article, Jim. My mother, too and a number of people I’m close too. All of them sensitive and creative.

  • A very poignant and much needed piece of writing. Thank you Jim. I think the same should apply to dementia – so many of us will suffer from some form of dementia or cognitive impairment and the sooner we get over the taboo of talking about it the better. My father has been diagnosed with a degree of cognitive impairment and I am encouraging him to tell people. Hopefully, they will respond by being pragmatically supportive, rather than embarrassed or acting as if it is the end of the world.

  • Thanks for sharing this Jim


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