What has this to do with us, you enquire. Well, to begin with, may I draw your attention, yet again, to the research published by Kay Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her study showed that 38% of a group of eminent British writers and artists had been treated for a mood disorder of one kind or another; of these, 75% had had antidepressants or lithium prescribed, or had been hospitalised. Of playwrights, 63% had been treated for depression. These proportions are, as you will have guessed, are many times higher than in the population at large.
Furthermore, may I draw your attention to some of the comments on this blog written by those who are bitterly aggrieved and deeply depressed at the injustice which has been done to them by those blind fools in publishing who resolutely refuse to recognise genius when it is presented to them on a plate.
Take, for instance, a recent email from one such. I asked him if I might quote him, anonymously, at some point, and he agreed. And, as I suspected, the opportunity to quote was not long in coming. Here is what he says:
I enjoy your blog; though, please, do include some homicidal musings about how you'd like to butcher some publishing types, it would cheer me up greatly. Pics of dead agents & publishers, their cheery apple polishing grins stiffened into death rictuses & frozen shrieks of terror, would also be pretty good. Hmm, yes.Now, if my correspondent and I appear to jest somewhat, that is because this is all extremely painful for those involved. What is more, it is a laugh/cry situation, and on the whole he and I prefer the former option.
But you really would not have to go far to find some writers who are deeply depressed by their situation as frustrated novelists (or playwrights, screenwriters, et cetera). And Dr Stuttaford draws our attention to Professor Schneidman's book The Suicidal Mind, in which he highlights five groups of depressed patients who are at the greatest risk of suicide.
Of these five groups, three at least seem to me to include substantial numbers of writers. They include those who suffer from (1) frustrated desires for achievement; (2) damage to self-image, and the need to avoid shame, defeat, humiliation, or disgrace; (3) excessive anger, rage and hostility.
You don't have to read my mail to detect these features in the writing community. Just sniff the wind. And if you couple that with the entirely natural, and, in a sense, fully justified depression which results in a having your book repeatedly rejected, then you have, I suggest, a potentially health-threatening situation. One which you would do well to be aware of before you start.
None of this, by the way, is a new thought on my behalf. It was the main thrust of my 2003 book, The Truth about Writing.
However, Dr Stuttaford has a piece of practical advice. He says that modern anti-depressants in the SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) group are often attacked in the media. They are, however, a much safer drug to give to depressed patients than the older, and cheaper, tricyclic antidepressants. With the latter, apparently, it is far too easy to kill yourself with an overdose; and, in a ten-year period, nearly 4,000 people did so.
So, if you do end up in the doc's hands, make sure he gives you the right stuff.