Search

‘I have taken on too much darkness’: SANE founder Marjorie Wallace reveals impact of lifetime’s work in mental health

15:45 08 August 2014

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, relaxes at her Highgate home. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, relaxes at her Highgate home. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton

The countless glittering awards Marjorie Wallace has won for her decades of fighting for the voiceless and marginalised should line the shelves of her Highgate Village home.

Instead, the 69-year-old surrounds herself with boxes full of letters from those she has helped with her campaigning journalism and as founder of mental health charity SANE.

Just this month, in the same week as receiving a Healthcare Communications Advocate award for her outstanding contribution to public health, the sister of a woman with schizophrenia wrote to Ms Wallace to thank her for her tireless work raising awareness of mental health.

“I feel heartened by your constant presence,” the woman told her.

Ms Wallace said: “I have been tremendously touched by the letters, they’re more important than the awards by a long way.

“There is not much anyone can do to take away the anguish and suffering people have to endure, but when I feel I’ve reached somebody and I’ve meant something to them, and they’ve said it changed their lives, then I suppose I feel very humble.”

Ms Wallace founded SANE in 1986 following her series of articles in The Sunday Times called The Forgotten Illness, which exposed the struggles of people living with mental illness, and the lack of treatment and services available.

“I slept on urine-soaked mattresses in houses where many people had been discharged from hospital,” she remembered. “I saw landlords stealing benefits, and I found people living in terrible Dickensian circumstances.”

She was then inundated with calls from sufferers and their families, who asked her to fight against the government’s controversial care in the community policy, which saw the closure of many traditional institutions without promised funding.

The Sunday Times – apparently appreciating the need for something like SANE – allowed her to spend half her time setting up the charity while still working for the newspaper.

Four years later, she left to become its chief executive and run SANE full-time.

However, the plaudits she has received for the charity’s resounding success in changing perceptions around mental illness have gone hand-in-hand with death threats, frightening phone calls and intruders.

About 15 years ago, when she was having treatment for breast cancer, someone broke into her home while her teenage daughter Sophia was inside.

Sophia, now a music agent, heard a noise and went into her mother’s bedroom to find one of her wigs Ms Wallace used while undergoing chemotherapy laid out on the bed, surrounded by matches and dozens of photos of her.

“She has been different ever since,” Ms Wallace said. “She asked me to take my address out of Who’s Who columns and anywhere it was public.

“I wasn’t worried for myself. I find that often when I talk to people who are ill, they are really frightened themselves because no one is listening to them, no one else is giving them help.”

Much of Ms Wallace’s role at SANE is championing the charity’s work to provide emotional support, destigmatise mental illness, and provide help for sufferers by giving about 300 media interviews a year.

But she still works on the frontline, regularly takes calls and maintains regular contact with many of those she has helped throughout the years.

She said: “I’ve always said that the day I’m not on the frontline is the day I should cease to run SANE.”

But her selfless devotion has taken its toll on her own mental health.

She does not regret her inability to switch off from helping the most vulnerable at all hours of the day, in what her four children affectionately call her “method acting” approach to campaigning.

However, she admits that if she lived her life again, she might not devote herself so intensely to the cause.

“I have taken on too much darkness,” she said. “Maybe I should have been more responsible, and I think it has had an effect.

“It’s like you have tattoos on the inside: you can’t ever really erase them once you’ve taken them on.”

Her struggle to cope with this darkness has intensified in the years since her beloved partner Tom Margerison, the founder of magazine New Scientist, became ill with Parkinson’s disease.

Following his death five months ago, a car accident shortly after his funeral left her with a broken arm. Still shaken, she sought comfort in poetry to express her emotions in the absence of her most loyal confidante.

“I have had quite a lot of times when I felt very depressed,” she admits. “I miss not having someone who will share the nervousness when I do a broadcast, the stories I find, the effort of writing. Time doesn’t really heal that. Tom actually drove me a bit hard because he was as passionate about SANE as I was, and I miss that.

“I find it quite lonely now that Tom is gone, but there’s a lot of other people who find it hard too.”

For more information, visit sane.org.uk. SANEline is open everyday between 6pm and 11pm on 0845 767 8000.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hampstead Highgate Express visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hampstead Highgate Express staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hampstead Highgate Express account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Hampstead & Highgate News Stories

27 minutes ago
Found dead: David Gest (Picture: Ian West/PA Wire)

The funeral of David Gest is set to take place this afternoon at Golders Green crematorium, according to reports.

Yesterday, 15:57
The case will be heard at the Court of Appeal

A man convicted of murdering a reclusive author in his Hampstead home will have his case heard at the Court of Appeal because of alleged police failings.

Yesterday, 15:08
Protest against Cycle Superhighway Regent's Park in March. Photo by Adam Tiernan Thomas

Campaigners against the proposed Cycle Superhighway 11 in Camden have welcomed a move by neighbouring Wesminster Council to oppose the scheme.

Yesterday, 14:43
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner from the Movement for Reform Judaism has said she doesn't think MP Naz Shah is anti-Semtiic

Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner welcomed Naz Shah into her home last week for an interfaith feast for Passover - and this morning said that she would like to take the suspended Labour MP to Israel.

Yesterday, 14:06
Marriott Swiss Cottage

The Marriott Hotel in Swiss Cottage has issued an apology after a member of staff told mums attending a Water Babies class that they could not breastfeed by the pool.

Yesterday, 07:00
Bianca Zeff with her son, Gabriel.

A group of furious Hampstead mums are threatening to stage a protest after they were told they could not breastfeed at a ‘mums and babies’ swimming class in Swiss Cottage.

Tue, 17:55
Junior Doctors outside The Whittington Hospital

Hundreds of appointments have been cancelled at the Royal Free and Whittington hospitals after junior doctors withdrew all care as the contract dispute continues.

Tue, 14:35
Teachers at Hornsey School for Girls are campaigning against 'bullying' by management.  Photo: Chris Wood

Teachers at Hornsey School for Girls are striking today amid claims staff have faced public humiliation, including being ridiculed and belittled in meetings.

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now

Newsletter Sign Up

Most read Hampstead & Highgate news

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Property Newsletter Sign-up

Get the latest North London property news and features straight to your inbox with our regular newsletter

I am also happy to receive other emails...
Fields marked with a * are mandatory
Email Marketing by e-shot

Competitions

Kindle 7 inch tablet

Are you looking for a brand new gadget to help you stay connected on the go and make that long journey home a bit more entertaining? Look no further. MyOffers is giving you the chance to win 1 of 50 Kindle Fire 7” Display Tablets! That’s 50 times more chances to win, so hurry up and enter our competition today and you could be one of our lucky winners!

Yummy traditional afternoon teas for two

MyOffers is giving you the chance to win 1 of 50 Traditional Afternoon Teas for two at a location of your choice! That’s 50 times more chances to win, so hurry up and enter our competition today and you could be one of our lucky winners!

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today

Subscribe