"I did come quite close," Fry revealed as he launched the Samaritans' annual report. "One does all sorts of things. You scream at yourself 'What is the point?' I think the only thing that stopped me was the knowledge of the devastation it would cause to my family. It was the only bit of reason, the little voice in my head, which did not desert me."
According to the report, Challenging The Taboo, one person dies through suicide every 75 minutes in the UK and one in four people know someone who has committed suicide. But unsympathetic views still abound with one third of the population seeing suicide as a selfish act and 55 per cent of young people thinking the depressed should simply "pull themselves together".
Fry, who walked out of the West End play Cell Mates and eventually surfaced in France, feels that people should be less judgemental. "There is never any logical reason for despair or suicidal feelings and there is never any logical reason not to feel despair," he said. "Reason has absolutely nothing to do with it. You can't reason yourself into cheerfulness any more than you can reason yourself into six inches more in height."
The actor admitted to having been "in the deepest pit", a feeling he also experienced at the age of 16 when he swallowed a cocktail of pills. They only made him ill. Fry was aware that the feeling could return, but after therapy said he was stronger to deal with it.
"Laughter can help other people, but not necessarily the laughter-giver. God knows that without laughter we would have all killed ourselves years ago."
Up to 7,000 people take their own lives every year in the UK - 25 per cent higher than the toll from road accidents - and at least 100,000 suicide attempts are made. Men aged between 15 and 44 account for 60 per cent of all male suicide deaths and the rate of suicide for men between 15 and 24 increased by 63 per cent from 1984 to1994.
The Samaritans received 3.9 million calls last year and Fry said it was often easier to confide in an anonymous stranger, likening deep depression to an embarrassing medical condition such as haemorrhoids. "You would rather show them to a stranger in a consulting room than one's mother."
He added: "When it comes to the dark things within us, the terrifying things that stalk us by night ... then we do shun our friends like animals who crawl away to die."
Simon Armson, chief executive of the Samaritans, called for more research, a public education campaign, national advertising to encourage talking about feelings and efforts to ensure that the response to the Health of the Nation becomes a priority. "We want to encourage debate on why talking about suicide and depression remain so difficult," he said.
Fry said he had not phoned the Samaritans last year, adding: "I have promised them that if I feel in such a bad mood again, I will pick up the phone and call them rather than pick up a cross-channel ferry ticket."
The Samaritans can be contacted on 0345 909090 for the cost of a local call.Reuse content