TV

Coronation Street's Beverley Callard opens up about how she overcame debilitating depression

"I can’t remember being this happy," she says. "The last few years have been ones of coming through problems. Now I am enjoying life on Corrie and the future's so much brighter."

By: Judy Kean

These days, Coronation Street star Beverley Callard appears to yet again be riding a love roller coaster, largely thanks to her character Liz McDonald's romance with Johnny Connor.

But offscreen, the veteran actress certainly has something to grin about.

Beverley (61), who has played Liz on and off for nearly 30 years, has been through some very tough times over the last decade, due to an ongoing battle with severe depression. Following a relapse a couple of years ago that led to her taking extended leave from the hit soap opera, Beverley says she's now in a very good place.

"I can't remember being this happy," she says. "The last few years have been ones of coming through problems. Now I am enjoying life on Corrie and the future's so much brighter."

Beverley's struggles with depression began back in 2009, triggered, she believes, by menopause. "No-one knows for sure, but the chemicals were unbalanced in my brain," she says.

Beverly didn't realise why she didn't feel "right" and kept plugging on with her role in Coro.

"I knew I wasn't myself and I wasn't firing on all cylinders, but I thought I could just work through it. I didn't think anyone like me would have depression because I'm a strong, feisty female. You find yourself in a black hole and you can't get out."

After about 18 months of being unwell, Liz collapsed one morning while driving to the Coro studios in Manchester.

"I waited until I felt better, didn't tell anyone, then got back in my car. I drove to work at 6.30am and filmed till 8.20pm, and then I collapsed again."

This time, she got help and medical staff told Beverley her body had gone into shutdown. Because she had ignored her symptoms for so long, she was told she needed electroconvulsive therapy to help overcome the severe depression. She had 12 treatments at the famed Priory clinic in London, which led to short-term memory loss.

"I thought I would never be able to do my job again," recalls Beverley, adding that she "couldn't write my name for six months" after leaving hospital.

"The whole thing is frightening, but it can make people better."

Fortunately, her memory eventually came back and anti-depressants helped her to keep the depression at bay. But then in 2016, the medication she was on was suddenly discontinued. After a couple of weeks without it, she was fine, but six weeks later, she felt like she was "sinking".

"At first, nobody knew I was struggling – I wanted to keep it a secret. But I was getting worse each day. One day, I was getting ready in my dressing room and I couldn't take it any more. Liz had to be dressed up for a scene in a PVC mini-skirt and I thought, 'Oh, my God, I feel idiotic. I'm not confident enough to put this on – I'm not up to this any more.'"

She knew she had to get help straight away.

"God knows what my GP thought – I went straight there with my fake eyelashes hanging off and he saw me immediately."

He was sympathetic, but a specialist she subsequently saw wasn't so helpful.

"This consultant looked at me like I was an idiot. But you have to be strong enough to say, 'Please help me.'"

Beverley admits that after years of having her depression under control, she felt bad about her relapse.

"All I could think was, 'I'm here again, back in the black hole.' I was completely suicidal and couldn't leave the house."

Luckily, her good friend Denise Welch – who played saucy barmaid Natalie Barnes in Coro in the late '90s and has had her own mental health issues – was able to help her.

"Denise recommended another London doctor and he saved my life."

Beverley also credits her husband, Jon McEwan, for his unfailing support. He even went to night school to do a course in counselling so he could help her.

After several months' leave from Coro, she was written back in but didn't have any major storylines for quite some time, which gave her time to get back on her feet. She's now taking care not to push herself too hard.

"I have to be sensible – I'm a workaholic and have to try to relax more, which I don't find easy. But I am really well now and feel like I'm back to normal."