Doctors warn of the dangers of addiction to ‘happy pills’ but TV presenter Wendy Turner Webster insists: ‘I’ll never stop taking the pills that have cured my depression’

  • Wendy says she hadn’t experienced joy until she took anti-depressants
  • She says the only thing she regrets about them is not taking them sooner
  • Since her medication Wendy has remarried after falling in love once more 
Happy again: Wendy looksforward to every day now

Happy again: Wendy looksforward to every day now

My 30th birthday was a milestone in many ways. For the first time in my life, I could say I had everything I’d ever wanted — a nice boyfriend, a great job, steady money and a place to call my own in London.

But I did not feel happy. The gloom that had hung over me for as long as I could remember stubbornly refused to budge, even in the face of all of this good fortune.

What I know now is that I would never have felt glad to be alive, no matter how much I had to be thankful for and would never have known what it is to feel joy — if I hadn’t started taking antidepressants.

And that is why, no matter what happens, I will never turn my back on my ‘happy’ pills.

Criticise me all you like, but I now accept my depression is an illness and know it would return again if I ever stopped taking them.

I am speaking out because I want people to realise depression is as debilitating as many physical conditions. And successful people, people who seem to have everything, people in the public eye, can suffer from it, too.

My only regret is that it took me until the age of 30 to realise there was something medically wrong.

You would never have known it to look at me, but I didn’t care if I lived or died. I’d felt that way since my teens. The joy of life was totally lost on me. There was not a day when I did not wake up and wonder what the point of it all was. Yet I believed, as many do, that only those with a reason to feel low could, or should, feel low.

My early childhood was happy. I grew up with my older sisters Anthea (yes, TV’s Anthea Turner) and Ruth at our home in Stoke-on-Trent. But everything changed when Ruth died.

Born with spina bifida, she was never expected to reach a ripe old age. But her death, from sudden kidney failure in the summer of 1978 when she was 15 and I was 11, was completely unexpected. As a family we had no idea how to react or recover.

From that moment on, life changed for ever; we all became different people, consumed, in our different ways, by shock and grief. I told myself that to show my own grief would only add to everyone else’s burden. So I bottled it up.

For weeks, I went to school and pretended nothing had happened. I imagined Ruth was still alive. And, if friends asked after her, I’d say she was fine. I couldn’t face the truth. It was easier not to.

I’m not sure how the truth eventually came out. My teachers had a quiet word with my friends, perhaps. All I know is, I never spoke to anyone about it.

They say some people are born with a predisposition to depression, for others it is triggered by circumstances. It’s hard to know whether I was always destined to suffer from it, but I do know Ruth’s death changed me.

I began my teenage years feeling numb and reckless, and I was looking for the chance to stick two fingers up at the world. That chance came when I met David.

While I was 17, he was a 32-year-old divorcé. What could possibly go wrong? We met at a local radio station in Stoke-on-Trent where I did work experience after school and he was an engineer. To the horror of everyone who knew me I fell into his arms, pleased to have found the love of my life — and a way to rebel.

Rising numbers: According to the latest NHS data, there has been an almost 25 per cent increase in prescriptions for antidepressants since 2010 in the UK

Rising numbers: According to the latest NHS data, there has been an almost 25 per cent increase in prescriptions for antidepressants since 2010 in the UK

Unsurprisingly, my parents, Jean, a retired teacher, and Brian, who owned a soft-furnishings business, were worried sick. But they knew any attempt to pull me and David apart would only force us closer together.

God knows how they restrained themselves when I announced we were to marry. But by the time the wedding came round — a traditional church affair — I was in a terrible situation from which I felt incapable of escaping. We’d been together for 18 months by then and David had become abusive, physically and psychologically.

He hit me, kicked me, threatened to knife our dog if I left him.

He chipped away at my self-esteem, exploiting insecurities any naïve, young girl would have. I wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t attractive enough; I didn’t deserve him.

I was completely isolated, living in a different world to my friends. I thought it would feel wonderful to be a grown-up, but I was never more than a helpless child.

When, at 19, I walked down the aisle on my father’s arm — dressed in white — I had lost myself and hated David for it.

New beginnings: Wendy says that had it not been for her medication she would have never found love again or remarried 

New beginnings: Wendy says that had it not been for her medication she would have never found love again or remarried

But it wasn’t until he choked me almost to death in a Bangkok hotel room four years later that I finally saw the light. Perhaps we both did. When we got home, he left me for his secretary and my family were waiting with open arms.

Through these troubled years, it was hard to gauge the state of my mental health. I wasn’t happy and couldn’t remember the last time I had been, but there were reasons for it. Excuses.

So it was fortunate that on my 30th birthday, with my disastrous marriage six years behind me, I was in a position to take stock and see clearly, for the first time, that while troubles had come and gone, depression had remained.

Often, particularly when a celebrity speaks out about depression, people scoff, saying: ‘What on earth does SHE have to feel depressed about?’ or ‘If that’s what depression looks like, I’ll take it!’

But that perpetuates a very dangerous idea: that only people with terrible lives have a right to feel terrible, and everyone else is merely ungrateful.

According to the latest NHS data, there has been an almost 25 per cent increase in prescriptions for antidepressants since 2010 in the UK. But instead of seeing this as welcome evidence that people are seeking treatment in greater numbers, many respond with head-shaking and hand-wringing.

But those who see a doctor and accept a prescription should be commended for their courage, not criticised for being too lazy, too self-centred, or too defeatist to buck up and get on with it like everyone else.

If they were diabetics we wouldn’t chastise them for taking insulin. If they had an infection, we’d expect them to take antibiotics. Yet people with depression are under constant pressure to avoid medication that could make all the difference to their lives — or come off it as soon as possible.

My mind and body were in sync at last. When I smiled, I meant it. When I went to bed at night, I fell quickly and soundly asleep, looking forward to the next day

Well, not me. Soon after that landmark birthday, I made a long-overdue appointment with my doctor, and told him exactly how I felt; that I couldn’t remember a time when I’d cared if I woke up the next day or not and longed to feel as happy as I looked.

He sent me for psychiatric evaluation and, after several sessions, it was concluded I’d been suffering from clinical depression for the whole of my adult life.

The next step was a prescription for anti-depressant Sertraline. Despite warnings I was likely to feel worse before I felt better, I couldn’t wait to start them.

With hindsight, it wasn’t wise to begin at the same time as my new job, presenting Pet Rescue on Channel 4. After a week of filming, I called my doctor, feeling worse than ever. ‘You mustn’t stop taking them,’ he said. ‘You’ll be out of the tunnel before you know it.’

On day 14, I woke to my own personal miracle. From the moment my eyes opened, I knew I felt different. Happy, but not in a false or extreme way; for perhaps the first time since my sister died I was just happy to be here.

My mind and body were in sync at last. When I smiled, I meant it. When I went to bed at night, I fell quickly and soundly asleep, looking forward to the next day.

My only regret was not having done something sooner.

It’s impossible to fathom the difference these little pills have made to my life. Without the steady sense of wellbeing they have given me, I suspect I would never have fallen in love or married again.

Six months after I started them, I met and fell in love with my husband, actor Gary Webster, while performing in panto.

I was no longer ambivalent about my future — instead I looked forward to building a life with Gary and growing old together.

I have never missed a pill all of our time together. Even when I was expecting our boys, Jack and Freddie, now 15 and 11. I took them every day, believing giving them up was a greater risk than continuing with them.

There is no data regarding the risks of taking antidepressants in pregnancy, although they have been linked with potential complications such as a higher risk of miscarriage and heart defects.

I’m proud to say I plan to take antidepressants until my dying day. I only hope that, by speaking up, I might convince others they don’t have to live with depression.


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