Comedian Ruby Wax yesterday urged parents and teachers to learn how to spot depression and to create an atmosphere where young people feel free to talk about it.
A lot of people take their lives “because who do they go to” and also because of the shame of depression, she said.
Speaking at the Clarion Hotel, Sligo, the television star said families should be educated and believe someone when they say they are depressed.
“Spot it, and be gentle, and say ‘I know it is really an illness, I know it is not because you are lazy or will not get out of bed’.”
Wax, whose one-woman show Out of Her Mind, highlighting the stigma surrounding mental illness, has just finished in London’s West End, was addressing the Mental Health Nurse Managers Ireland (MHNMI) annual conference.
She said it was hard for people to admit to depression, and she argued that a change in employment laws was necessary to counter discrimination.
“I don’t know the statistics but if you are a managing director and you are off for six months with depression, you are out. You are fired,” she said.
“Also, if it is on your CV that you have depression good luck getting that job. So those laws have to change. They really do.”
Questioned on her experience of depression, given that she is regarded as one of the funniest people on television, she said: “Everyone says: ‘You are so healthy, you have a great job’. I would not say to someone with cancer: ‘You have great family and look how much money you are making’. I would not insult them like that.”
She said just as with cancer or diabetes it had nothing to do with what you do for a living.
“It is an illness. I am not in a bad mood. It is like a coma. If I had Alzheimer’s, which is a brain disease too, you would not say ‘snap out of it’. It is nothing to do with what you do for a living.”
Explaining how she uses humour to highlight the issue in her show, she said: “When I start talking about mental illness, people in the audience start nodding their heads. If it is not you it is your mother or brother.”
Wax, who plans to visit Knock Shrine today, said it was important to use humour to get the message across, otherwise she would be “hammered to the ground”.
In his address, Patrick Benson, president of MHNMI, warned that members were afraid that stigma was preventing people from accessing mental health services at an early stage.