231915 CWMT Newsletter 02 8/3/05 12:08 pm Page 7
WELCOME TO OUR NEW TRUSTEE
SIR MICHAEL CONNELL
Michael officially joined the ‘board’ of Trustees in July of this year and by way of introduction he haswritten a short and (I am sure) extremely modest autobiography
After Harrow and Brasenose College, Oxford, I was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in July1962. In the summer of that year I joined Queen Elizabeth Building as a pupil and then as a tenant,practising as a Common Law Junior until taking Silk in 1981. My practice involved primarilydivorces and Horses, with a regular injection of Crime! In 1991 I was appointed to the High CourtBench, Family division, serving as a Judge until retirement in 2002. Since then my main involvementhas been as a Steward of the Jockey Club, concerned with the Regulation of Racing.
My sporting interests are very general; a keen supporter of English cricket and Rugby and of LutonTown football Club. My principle sporting involvement has been equine. Between 1957 and 1989 Irode enthusiastically (and just occasionally with success) in point to points and Hunter Chases whichaccompanied my long involvement with, and affection for, the Grafton Hunt. Nowadays I confinemyself to the occasional (and mostly unprofitable) punt on one of our own horses, which are oftenhome bred.
I retain great affection from my old school, Harrow, where I was a Governor for 19 years, andChairman for the last five. Each of my three sons attended Harrow and I am proud that four of mygrandsons hope to follow on in about 2012. Annie and I married in 1965. Since 1990 we have livednear Brackley, and our four children all live about one hour away from us. Our eldest three aremarried with varying numbers of children so that, to date, our grandchildren number eight.
My charitable involvement has centred mainly on Harrow, although I am a Trustee of JET, which isconcerned to continue education for children whose families have suffered a severe setback. I havesupported CWMT since its inception; and, given that I know a little about depression in youngpeople, mostly via the courts, I believe that the Trust does make, and will continue to make, aserious, constructive contribution to a problem which is far more common than most of us realise.
Depression in adolescents is notoriously hard to spot. Sulkiness, moodiness, tantrums,antisocial behaviour, negativity, withdrawal - these are all fairly typical parts of growing up. YetYoung Minds estimates that as many as one in five teenagers is presenting symptoms ofdepression at any time. More alarmingly, Childline estimate that there are 19,000 suicideattempts by adolescents every year. That’s one every 30 minutes. The majority of thoseattempts are made by young women aged between 15 and 19, usually by overdose. Of all theseattempts, a minimum two suicides by people under the age of 25 in the UK and Republic ofIreland are recorded every day.
While some attempts are reactions to age-specific circumstances - exams, eating problems,body image, relationship break-up, pregnancy, sexuality, bullying, problems at home, abuse -many are alarm bells signalling an underlying mental illness.
So how are parents to tell the difference between teenage angst and clinical depression?Symptoms to watch out for include unrelenting sadness, hopelessness, boredom, unexplainedirritability or crying, loss of interest in usual activities, changes in eating or sleeping habits and
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alcohol or substance abuse. Other alarm bells include missed school or poor performance,unexplained cuts or burns indicating deliberate self-harm, threats or attempts to run away fromhome, persistent physical aches and pains, outbursts of shouting, complaining, recklessbehaviour and thoughts about death or suicide.
I went overnight from being a shy, well-behaved, studious teenager to coming home drunk onschool nights, talking incessantly about death and life’s inherent pointlessness and listening todeafening nihilistic music. I began hiding in my room, blowing my Saturday job money oncigarettes, breaking down in tears over the slightest thing and bringing home report cards withailing grades. Like most parents with a teenager in the house, mine figured it was just arebellious phase, a hormonally induced nightmare that would eventually pass.
I now know that one of the earliest symptoms I presented - my obsession with death - is acommon way for adolescent clinical depression to announce itself. But several more years ofslamming doors, getting into trouble at school, binge-drinking and ranting at my mother abouthow we were all going to die of cancer, would follow before my parents insisted I see our GP,who diagnosed “anxiety with depression” and put me on antidepressants. I was 18.
In those days, you didn’t turn the TV on to find Princess Diana talking about her struggles withdepression. You couldn’t buy memoirs like Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation and LaurenSlater’s Prozac Diary. There were no films like Thirteen or Girl, Interrupted. You didn’t haveKurt Cobain singing about clinical depression and then blowing his brains out.
You didn’t have movie stars like Angelina Jolie going on talkshows explaining why she used tocut herself. You didn’t surf the web and find online support communities for every kind ofpsychological ailment imaginable. You didn’t open the newspaper and read columns like this.
And I never once heard anybody use terms like depression, anxiety or self-harm.
Now, 20 years later, much has changed. I get emails from teenagers who read this column,telling me they take antidepressants, they’re seeing counsellors or therapists, their friends aredepressed too, there are self-harm epidemics at their schools. One 16-year-old girl wrote askingfor help because her best friend jumped in front a train and now she felt like doing the same.
Another, only 15, emailed saying her parents had no idea that she cut herself every day andthat she was writing to me because she had no one else to turn to. And a 14-year-old girl wrotesaying that she and a group of friends met in the playground at school once a week during lunchtime to hold what she called “self-help meetings”, at which they shared tips - gleaned from theinternet - on ways to cope and feel better.
Reading these emails, I realise that though we are talking more about mental illness, rates ofadolescent depression continue to rise, making it more vital than ever that parents don’tmisread depression as teenage moodiness.
Nick Johnstone’s column ‘Blue Notes’ in which he frankly, humorously and often painfullyrelates his ongoing struggle with depression appear fortnightly in Tuesday’s edition of theGuardian. www.guardian.co.uk
This article is reproduced by the kind permission of Nick Johnstone and Guardian NewspapersLimited.
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