Joanna Lumley health: ‘I had a really ropey time’ – star on ‘six month’ long breakdown

Joanna Lumley reveals how she reacted to her Damehood

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The 75-year-old who was made a Dame in the 2022 New Year Honours list for services to drama, entertainment and charity shot to fame as a model before moving into acting where she has won several awards. But in a throwback interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lumley bravely spoke out about a complete nervous breakdown that she suffered when first starting out in the industry. Her mental health became so bad that she struggled to even go out in public.

In a conversation with Lord Bragg, the broadcaster, who has suffered his own mental health problems, Lumley said that her struggle started when she was in her mid-20s trying to raise her young son Jamie.

“I was on stage and I began to see people levelling guns at me out of the boxes,” she recalled.

“I’d see the glint of a rifle, I’d see it levelling down and I used to work out how I could throw myself in front of this actor so I could protect them but also bring us both down to the ground.

“It was six months. It was a complete nervous breakdown.”

As her condition worsened, it started to affect everyday aspects of her life, such as going to the shops and being able to cross a road.

She added: “I was pretty badly shaken up. My nerves were gone. I didn’t dare go to the shops. I had a really ropey old time. I was spending all day thinking, ‘How will I get through the day?’

“I had those panic attacks when you think, ‘Breathe in, breathe out, just keep breathing in. Study the flowers. What colour are the flowers? Anything to stop your mind going mad. And I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of this, how do I?’

“To try and make myself get out to shops to buy food I would imagine the worst thing that could happen at each stage.

“If I fell over on the floor, what would happen? Always the same answer came back into my head. ‘Someone will help you up.’”

This is not the only time the star has spoken about her ordeals with mental health, whilst on the Jonathan Ross Show a few years ago, the actress revealed the extent of her depression, referring to it as “the black dog”.

“Occasionally I get eclipsed by sadness or depression, the black dog on your shoulder, and feel lousy for two or three months. And then one morning everything’s thrilling again,” she said.

“You’ve got to have lived life to the full and been grateful.”

Most recently back in January 2022, Lumley caused controversy with more comments about her mental health. During a chat on GB News the TV presenter said: “I have to say – this is a horrible thing to say – but I think the mental health thing is being overplayed at the moment because anybody who is even remotely sad says they have got mental problems

“You go, ‘This is what is called being human.’ When someone dies and you grieve, that’s human. That’s what being a human is. You’re not mentally ill. And I think it also is awful to people who really are mentally ill or are properly clinically depressed, for everybody to say they’ve got to have some sort of special treatment.

“Just get a grip! Do you know what I mean? Of course some of you are going to feel bloody awful and some of you may well be suicidal or mentally depressed, that’s a different thing.”

The surprising comments caused a backlash on social media, some of whom were critiquing Lumley, who believed her own breakdown and panic attacks were due to money worries and not knowing how she was going to look after her young son.

The Mayo Clinic describes a panic attack as a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers a severe physical reaction for no apparent cause. Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, but for some, panic attacks can be recurrent. These unexpected panic attacks lead to the person living in constant fear of another attack.

If left untreated, panic attacks can affect almost every area of someone’s life. This can include developing other mental health conditions, such as depression or a nervous breakdown. Although not a term used medically, a nervous breakdown is used to describe a period of time when individuals are unable to function normally in day-to-day life.

What some people call a nervous breakdown may indicate an underlying mental health problem that needs attention, such as depression or anxiety. Some individuals may find themselves calling in sick to work, avoiding social engagements and having trouble following healthy patterns of eating, sleeping and hygiene.

If you or someone you know might be having a nervous breakdown, it is recommended that you seek a professional medical opinion. For confidential mental health support call 116 123 (free from any phone), email [email protected] or visit some branches in person.

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