Breakdown and Fear of Breakdown: feeling on the brink of insanity.

Joanna Lumley and Melvyn Bragg’s personal experiences of  mental illness and breakdown.

In Saturday’s Telegraph (22nd October), both Joanna Lumley and Melvyn Bragg disclosed and discussed their personal experiences of mental illness. Lumley describes how, in her mid-20s, she felt on the brink of insanity. In a conversation with Lord Bragg, she describes being on stage and feeling anxious and paranoid ‘I began to see people levelling guns at me out of boxes’. She walked out of the play she was in but her condition became quite paralysing ‘I couldn’t cross the road… I had to concentrate on breathing in and out. It’s panic attacks and you are on the brink of utter insanity.’

Bragg has suffered two breakdowns. His first was when he was 13 at school and the second after the suicide of his first wife, Lisa Roche in 1971. When he was at school, he describes something leaving his head and drifting across the room. He felt terrified and unable to cope. The condition affected his school work drastically, he felt physically frightened and isolated. The isolation and aloneness Bragg describes is worryingly typical of mental illness – feeling alone, confused and ashamed. Bragg states that when he was at school ‘there was absolutely  nobody on Earth I could tell, I couldn’t even hint to anybody because I’m finding it hard enough to talk about now.’ Bragg states that the condition came back in his 20’s and 30’s for about a year and with a vengeance. And yet, Bragg feels it very important to tell people that for the last 40 years he hasn’t had a breakdown: ‘I got through it and that is really important to tell people. I’ve done a lot of work and made friends and brought up a family and done this, that and the other’. Bragg is the president of Mind, the mental health charity and wants other sufferers to take heart.

Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks and dissociation can be greatly helped by psychotherapy and counselling. These conditions can be terrifying for the sufferer and yet, with the help of a trained therapist, we can begin to feel back in our bodies, feel back in our self and be able to start to process the terror and fear. The aim is to marry all parts of our self together – conscious and unconscious – and to be able to manage ourselves when we feel distressed so the fears, terrors and symptoms don’t spiral out of control.