Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry was ‘the steel pixie’. Someone made of stronger stuff, the original reality TV ice maiden, known for her ambition and determination. It was all a cover, she says, for the turmoil she was hiding inside.
“If anyone had seen me on the television they would have thought I was happy and strong,” she said. “They wouldn’t know that I would get in the car and just will myself home so I could cry. That I would appear on TV, and in the ad breaks I would hide in the toilets and cry.
I’d seen my sister die and seen the impact on my mum of losing a child. I didn’t want her to feel responsible. So I told her I was going to die, and it wasn’t her fault, and there was nothing she could do.Michelle Dewberry
“Once I took an overdose, and the next day I was standing at an awards do, on stage as ‘inspirational’, with a horrendous awful chill, my head all fuzzy, shaking. Nobody knew I wanted to die. We, as sufferers, become good at hiding it.”
The 37-year-old, from Hull, said she has probably suffered with mental health problems from her late teens.
“I had quite a troubled upbringing, an abusive upbringing, and I lost my sister at the age of 17,” she said. “I would self-harm. I was bulimic. At that time, that was just how I was. I was a very unhappy person. I would try and work, and thrive, and have ambition, and battle through regardless. That was maybe a coping mechanism.”
Michelle was named winner of the 2006 series of The Apprentice, going on to work for Sir Alan Sugar. She was a businesswoman, in the public eye, and seemingly riding high on success.
“As the years rolled on, my achievements became higher and higher, and my lows, lower and lower,” she said. “I thought that was just how life was.
“I didn’t really deal with it. Before I knew it, everything came to a head in 2012. It felt like something was leaning on my chest. It was just a constant churning. No matter what I did, it was still there. I’d had suicidal thoughts for a long time, but I didn’t talk about it.
“I’d seen my sister die and seen the impact on my mum of losing a child. I didn’t want her to feel responsible. So I told her I was going to die, and it wasn’t her fault, and there was nothing she could do. It wasn’t a whim – it was a constant feeling.
“I had to tell her, so she knew that she couldn’t change it, so that she would feel less bad.”
But her mother was adamant, and they struck a deal – Michelle would see a doctor at least.
“I was just doing it for my mum – I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me,” she said. “The doctor said I was ill. I had depression.
“Looking back, I was ill. I just never spoke about it. I had a job, a home, my health. What did I have to be depressed about? That just made it worse.
“But depression is in spite of your circumstances. It doesn’t discriminate.”
Today, Michelle is well. But it’s a conscious choice, she says, to have positive mental health.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as being cured,” she said. “Everybody has got mental health, in the same way we’ve got physical health. It’s an illness. One that’s massively misunderstood.
“Good mental health should be taught in schools. We should teach young people how to deal with their emotions, how to articulate. There’s no shame.
“In Hull, I’ve seen units closed down. It takes weeks and weeks to get talking therapies. If you’re cusp of suicide, you haven’t got weeks and weeks.
“What I would like is for mental health to be taken as seriously as physical health in the NHS and beyond.
“It’s OK not to be OK. We all deserve to be happy.”
* If you are struggling to cope, call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope.