At this event at Milngavie Library and Community Centre, the audience were treated to two speakers, Karen Cowley, recently appointed Chief Executive of the Scottish charity Action on Depression, and Stockton-on-Tees born novelist John Nicholson.
Action on Depression aims to provide support to sufferers of depression, raise awareness of the condition, inform people of the various treatment options and self-help courses that are available to them, and remove the stigma that surrounds mental ill-health. Karen presented some facts and figures about how significantly attitudes towards mental health have changed in recent years, and, more importantly, how much work is still to be done.
John Nicholson’s talk followed Karen’s presentation and gave his own personal insight into living with and coping with depression. He explained how he was able to turn to writing fiction as a way of not only making money, but also as a way to cope with and treat his depression.
I caught up with John after the event had broken up to ask him about his experiences of stigma, the fear of coming out and being open about his depression:
‘Guys are kind of brought up in this culture of emotional repression. So if you're struggling, it's almost like: a. you wouldn't want to admit it to yourself; and b. you certainly wouldn't want to talk to anyone else about it.
‘Especially when you're younger, you just think it's the least sexy thing to say: “Actually, I'm struggling to get through a day.” Who wants to hear that? So you just keep it to yourself.
‘That's why people like my books, I think, because they just empathise. They see things that they've had to go through in them, that's why they're almost grateful that I've written it, which is a great honour for me. It's a privilege to write for people, to express something that really may be deeply hidden in their lives.’
I then asked him to say a little bit about why he started to write fiction:
‘I started writing the fiction three years ago and I write incredibly quickly. I've written ten novels in 34 months, which is incredible, I know, it's part of my mania. I write them in two months and edit them and proofread them in a third month.
‘It is clear to me that this has been building up all my life, and that this is my time to do it. I'm like vomiting it all out, it's sort of projectile literary vomiting.
‘Part of that is the recognition that it's hard to sell a lot of books, of any one book. So if you have a lot of books and you sell a few of all of them, then that way you can make a living.'
I then asked John about the effect he has felt knowing that people read and respond to him books:
‘Being read, and being understood, is very therapeutic I think. It's very self-justifying, it helps you think that you're not a useless git. You just think that, “well, I've got something”.
‘The people who read them really do love them, and I hear from them every day and it's very touching.
‘It's a very intimate thing being a writer. There's only you and the reader in the room, so you're there with them, often in quite an intimate situation, they're sitting in bed sometimes, you know? And that's a sort of privilege I like to respect really. So for people to take time just to say, “I loved it”, is a beautiful thing.’
Written by Andy Revill
For more information on Action on Depression, visit their website.
For more information on John's writing or to purchase one of his books, visit his website.