The director, writer and performer Kathy Burke experienced suicidal impulses as a result of the menopause, she has confided in an interview with the Observer Magazine this weekend.
Burke, 58, who has survived a string of serious physical health scares during her career, reveals that her more recent struggles with mental health may have been the hardest to conquer. In a discussion about attitudes to death ahead of the launch of her podcast, Where There’s A Will, There’s A Wake, she explains that for a difficult period in her early 50s she continually planned the best way to kill herself.
“I started to have pretty dark, suicidal thoughts,” she confides. “I’ve always had bouts of depression but this was something else entirely. I don’t mind telling you that it was quite frightening.”
Burke said the deterioration in her mental state followed her recovery from a debilitating sickness that led to a dependence on steroids. Hitting the menopause next was the catalyst for severe depression. Although Burke understood the cause, hormone replacement therapy was not possible because of her other medication.
She was worried, she recalls, about who would find her body if she did kill herself, and even planned to hire a hotel room with an ensuite bathroom so that she could leave a note warning the hotel staff “to not come in, get the manager, get the police.” The resolution of this imaginary problem was the beginning of her return to sanity.
“It was weird, it was sort of, once I’d made that decision, I could relax … Then the depression started to lift a wee bit,” she said.
Burke, who directed Jennifer Saunders in a West End production of Oscar Wilde’s comedy Lady Windermere’s Fan four years ago, said her physical health problems started 30 years before that, after she had received the Best Actor award at the Cannes film festival for her acclaimed performance in the Gary Oldman film Nil By Mouth.
A bout of the digestive condition diverticulitis put Burke in hospital, where she contracted an infection that exacerbated her pre-existing blood-clotting condition. Such a heavy blow to her constitution knocked her mental resilience.
“Oh, but I’m so glad I didn’t kill myself during menopause,” Burke concludes.
“That would have been a bit of a shame. But listen, that didn’t happen. I came through the other side, and I’m fucking delighted I did.”
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected]. You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk.
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org