Brown Bread: Nicholas Hughes


The son of the poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath has taken his own life, 46 years after his mother gassed herself while he slept. Nicholas Hughes hanged himself at his home in Alaska after battling against depression for some time, his sister Frieda said yesterday.

This sad story really struck a chord with me, as my own depression starts to bite again.

Nicholas Hughes’s suicide certainly tells us nothing about poetry, but it may say something about the nature of depression and parental influence. Not only does depression tend to run in families, but a suicide in one generation may be repeated in the next. If a parent chose death as a means of ending depression, a child could well be more likely to decide that suicide is an appropriate solution. It’s not uncommon for the children of suicides to commit suicide themselves.

But depression and suicide are much more complex than mere matters of “heredity”. We are who we are due to an inextricable mix of familial and genetic factors. In addition to inheriting genes from our parents, we receive a psychological legacy as well. The tragic death of Nicholas Hughes unfortunately demonstrates this: his parents’ poetry famously detail that Mondays were her most desperately depressed days, and in fact she killed herself on a Monday. Likewise, Nicholas Hughes died on 16 March 2009 – a Monday.

However, according to some of Dr Hughes’s oldest friends, it was not until his father, then the Poet Laureate, died from cancer in 1998 that his son began to have serious mental health problems.

R.I.P. Nicholas Hughes 1962-2009


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