Stephen Fry: ‘Understudies should be used for depression, not just physical injury’

Stephen Fry. Photo: Simon James/Shutterstock
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Stephen Fry has claimed that performers suffering from mental health problems are still not treated the same as those with physical conditions.

Speaking at an event about mental health in theatre, Fry said it was a “pity” that society had not yet reached a point where mental and physical illnesses are considered the same.

“I know everybody that has ever been involved in a big musical will know that swings and dance captains are there in order, every single day, to work out if there’s an injury who will be replacing who in the chorus, who is coming in to double for this part and so on.

“The day may come when someone says: ‘I’ve broken my ankle’, and [someone else says]: ‘I’ve got the day off because I have had a depressive episode’, and it will sound the same. There will be no difference.

“We haven’t reached anything like that age. It is a brave person who could say that with such elan and that is obviously a pity.”

Fry was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995, after quitting a production of Cell Mates in the West End and leaving the country.

In a keynote speech for the Theatre Chaplaincy UK spring lecture – held at the Actors’ Church in central London – Fry spoke about his experiences on the production, which he left after just three performances.

He said it had “brought me to my senses” and made him realise that he needed to seek help for his mental health.

“In the first weekend I had some kind of, it wasn’t quite a breakdown, it was a massive failure of nerve, but not just professional nerve as an actor, it was life nerve. I genuinely felt like I couldn’t continue my existence. It was one of four attempts on my life that I have made.”

Fry has since become an advocate for mental health issues and is president of mental health charity Mind.