Bryony Gordon's Mad World Podcast with Stephen Fry: Britain must confront the problem of 'unhappy children'

Bryony Gordon

Stephen Fry has described his shock at learning of a self harm epidemic at top public schools, warning that Britain must confront the problem of "unhappy children".

The broadcaster told The Telegraph he had been speaking to pupils at Eton College about mental health when he was told there were several boys in each house who self harmed.

He said it was clear that regardless of material wealth, something was missing in the lives of young people.

“One of the most urgent things we face is to confront the fact that we have such unhappy children,” he said.

“We can say but look they’ve got everything - they’ve got iPhones, they’ve got this, they’ve got that. Clearly, we know that can’t be enough.

“There is something missing and who is it who is not providing what’s missing? Is it a huge social thing? Is it a political thing? Is it a personal thing? How do we address it because its something that needs to be put right.”

Celebrities who have spoken out about mental health

Fry spoke to Bryony Gordon for the first episode in the second series of her award-winning podcast, Mad World.

He said that while society might not be surprised that children from disadvantaged backgrounds who had suffered abuse and abandonment self harmed, it was perhaps assumed that such problems did not affect those from more privileged homes.

Fry discussed how social media had redefined the parameters of popularity, noting how many young people tried to kill themselves because of an online response that made them feel unpopular or unloved.

“Popularity now has numbers that you can stare at on a screen,” he added.

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“When we were at school we felt sometimes we weren’t very popular or we’d go in to get our food at lunch time and it was a struggle sometimes to find a place to sit down and (you would think) I’m unpopular today.

“But this is black and white - you are this unpopular. This tweet you sent has only had nasty responses.

“It’s a cruel and vicious thing.”

Fry, who is president of Mind, the largest mental health charity in England, spoke about his own struggles with bi poplar disorder and described how he had learnt to deal with the highs and lows and the sense that there was no purpose in living.

He said his mental health problems were first recognised when he was just 15, when he had what is now known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Mental health figures

“I couldn’t sit still in the classroom and I was a pain in the ass for everybody,” he said. “I also stole all the time, I’d go into shops and steal screw drivers and things like that and then hide them in my study at school for no particular reason.”

His parents sent him to psychiatrist, Dr Gerard Vaughan, the former Conservative minister, who mentioned bipolar disorder on his notes and sent a copy to his house master at school.

Fry was expelled from private school Uppingham in Rutland for his behaviour and subsequently from Paston College in Norfolk.

Mental health figures

He described his suicide attempt in Uganda in 2012 and how, on his return to London, he was introduced to a psychiatrist who warned him he had little chance of living another couple of years unless he took his advice.

Since then, he said, he had given up drink and drugs, started exercising, taken medication and met his husband, Elliot.

“I know these are things that I’m not gonna say are cures but for me they’ve helped,” he added.

“It is possible to live with these diseases, its possible to have these disorders and be a

fully creative, happy, connected, loving, friend filled - fulfilled person, achieving things doing things, living with it.”

How to listen to Bryony Gordons Mad World podcast