Wednesday, 6 Jul 2022

Helena Bonham Carter health: Star on her bewildering mental health battle – depression

Helena Bonham Carter on preparing to play Princess Margaret

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Explaining back in 2016, the BAFTA winning actress, who was married to director Tim Burton until the pair divorced back in 2014, said that paying too much attention to body shape and what people say “can be lethal”. Proclaiming herself as being “weird” when she was younger, the actress said that she can easily get “depressed about little bits”, but there are parts of her body that are still not so old. With a history of mental health in her family, Bonham Carter was also open about the depression she felt when she split from Burton and the therapy she sought as a result of her mental health struggles.

“I’ve had depression. My periods of depression usually relate to the end of things,” she revealed in 2018 when promoting her film 55 Steps, in which she played psychiatric patient Eleanor Riese, who successfully fought the US’s medical and political establishment in the 1980s for the right to refuse antipsychotic drugs.

“My periods of depression usually relate to the end of things. But I don’t have rituals. I’ve had times when my mind is not helping me,” she continued to say.

“You can get depressed about little bits, and feel like, ‘Oh God, a wrinkle!’ But if you do that, you get a negative list in your head.

Having grown up experiencing the effects that mental health can have, after seeing her mother Elena experience a breakdown after the death of her father – Bonham Carter’s grandfather – the actress finds it important to not only look after her physical health, but her mental health.

She added: “The thing is, bits of you age at different speeds. I mean, my knees are incredibly old, they’re about 100, but there are other bits of me that are not so old.

“There are a lot of really active older people, and if you can keep your basic health, including your mental health, you can only get better.

“Mum has been a real example of wearing her depression and her mental frailty as a badge of honour. She’s saying: ‘Look at what I survived.’”

Depression can affect everyone in different ways, but if an individual is experiencing a low mood that lasts for a long time, causing disturbances in their everyday lives, it might be a sign for them to try and get some help.

For Bonham Carter, depression has been present at numerous times throughout her life, including when she split from husband Burton after 13 years of marriage. At the time she described the separation as a “massive grief” going on to say that it changed “everything”.

She said: “You go through massive grief – it is the death of a relationship, so it’s utterly bewildering. Your identity, everything, changes.

“Everyone always says you have to be strong and have a stiff upper lip, but it’s OK to be fragile.”

The NHS explains that depression does not only cause mental symptoms, but physical. This can include feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, aches and pains and a low sex drive.

Sometimes this is triggered by a life-changing event such as bereavement, or loving a job and giving birth. Individuals with a family history of depression are also more likely to experience it themselves.
In relation to what causes depression, an individual may be diagnosed with a specific type of condition. For example the following are specific depression disorders:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression that occurs at a particular time of year, or during a particular season. See our page on SAD for more information.
  • Dysthymia – continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more. Also called persistent depressive disorder or chronic depression.
  • Prenatal depression – depression that occurs during pregnancy. This is sometimes also called antenatal depression.
  • Postnatal depression (PND) – depression that occurs in the first year after giving birth.

Luckily for the actress, Bonham Carter was able to overcome her depression, despite saying that therapy did not really help. Instead she said that depression “just passed”.

She added: “I had therapy. I’m not sure if the therapy helped. It just passed. It was fine. You find a way through it, but it is hard, still, to talk about it.”

For others, therapy is extremely successful in treating depression. Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on an individual’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions and how to challenge negative thoughts.

If CBT is recommended, individuals will usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every two weeks. The course of treatment usually lasts for between five and 20 sessions, with each lasting 30 to 60 minutes.

For others, antidepressants are also prescribed. Although this does not deal with the root cause of depression, it will help individuals to manage symptoms. It is thought antidepressants work by increasing levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, are linked to mood and emotion.

Many people with depression may also benefit by making lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, cutting down on alcohol, giving up smoking and eating healthily.

For confidential mental health support contact Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258.

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