Wildlife presenter Chris Packham has spoken about a struggle with mental health which has twice taken him to the brink of suicide. Packham, 54, who is one of the faces of the BBC's Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch programmes, also revealed that he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in his 30s.
Describing his depression as a "great, hopeless vacuum", Packham has admitted that the sudden death of his beloved dog Fish in 2003 hit him very hard, and left him to seriously consider taking his own life. It was only because he "didn't have enough drugs to be sure it would work" that prevented him, he said, adding: "I wouldn't want to make a bad job of suicide".
Speaking to the Times to promote his new book, entitled Fingers In The Sparkle Jar, Packham confessed that his long-term partner Charlotte Corney saved his life when she bought him two poodles, named Itchy and Scratchy, after his depression failed to lift. He realised that he didn't want to leave the dogs behind, or to hurt his family.
The incident matched another; when Packham was a teenager, he nurtured Tem, a kestrel he'd taken from its nest as a fledging. Tem made him feel "as if I'd climbed through a hole in heaven's fence", he said, but when it died of a mystery illness, he found himself so grief-stricken he was unable to speak for days.
"I hadn't made any mental preparation for losing Fish," he wrote in the book. "I'd been to the football, the dog was in the car and Charlotte dropped us off. But within 10 minutes he'd been run over and died in my arms. It was horrendous, the whole process of him dying and having to bury him. It was a mirror image of what had happened with the bird."
Itchy and Scratchy are now 13, but Packham believes that years of therapy have given him the framework to be able to cope with their deaths, which he realises are inevitable.
Writing about his autism, Chris said: "It's confusing. You think you're like everyone else. I'd play football and ride bikes with the other kids but by the time I got to adolescence, I didn't want to be involved with anyone my own age."
He told the Times: "I didn't understand that I was different. I didn't understand why I was being rejected. I didn't get invited to parties. I didn't fit in."
The Samaritans provides a free support service for those who need to talk to someone. The charity can be contacted through Samaritans.org or on 08457 90 90 90, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.