Seven Australian Writers who have Suffered with Mental Illness

In a fractured and profane existence, art provides a route to the revered and divine. There is an idealism about creatives living on the edge. Their sensitivity and vulnerability are considered necessary to find and reveal beauty. Many artists deal with inner troubles. Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and from 10 to 18 October 2020, it is Mental Health Week in Queensland. A reflection on the struggles many Australian writers have suffered gives us insight at this time.

In 2014 author/illustrator Mel Tregonning, at the age of 31, tragically took her own life after being let out of a mental health clinic. Her friend Shaun Tan collaborated with her posthumously to create “Small Things”. The story wordlessly tells how a small boy and his sister share their concerns and find support. The aim was to leave a legacy that could help others.

John Marsden, famed author of “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, openly talks of spending time in a psychiatric hospital for depression in his 20s, after leaving university. Another children’s author, Paul Jennings has shared his difficult relationship with his father. He has described how the feelings of disgust he felt for his father intruded on his inner world.

Doctor, medical researcher and author Kate Richards writes about her experiences with psychosis. “Madness, a memoir” is her first-hand experience of trying to create balance and stability.

Charmian Clift collaborated with husband George Johnston on various novels including “High Valley”. She was a talented journalist and wrote for the Argus. After moving to Greece, she wrote several fictions including “Honour’s Mimic”. In the 1960s she was responsible for a popular weekly column in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Melbourne Herald. She wrote the script for Johnston’s ‘My Brother Jack” television production. Both Clift and Johnston drank heavily. In 1969, at the age of 45, she overdosed on sleeping pills while under the influence of alcohol.

In the 1920s, Charles Carter was the Treasurer of the Australian Literature Society. He was a prolific playwriter and published regularly in Corroboree – the society’s journal. At the age of 75 he committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of The Spencer Street General Post Office in Melbourne.

Nicholas Kolios was born in Turkey in 1885. A traumatic experience caused him to migrate to Australia in 1922. He was a journalist and contributed to Ethniki Salpinx. He became the owner, went bankrupt and committed suicide shortly after. He was 42. One can only assume suffering displacement as a migrant contributed to his failing mental health.

All these intelligent and extraordinary people have endured mental illness. Those who lost their lives have left a fall-out of grief and loss that has echoed down generations. Notions of romance are not a fact of this outcome. Perhaps, if effective detection, treatment and prevention were available, these people would have been able to reach a balance more easily.  De-stigmatisation of mental illness begins with understanding. This can only be achieved by communicating and connecting openly about these experiences. Writers have the tools to be that catalyst.

If you are needing support, you can find help here: https://www.qldmentalhealthweek.org.au/find-help/

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