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In this stunning and raw exclusive piece, Jessie Stephens, Mamamia Executive Editor and author of Something Bad Is Going To Happen, shares her family’s story of the generational curse that depression can be. But enough from us, we’ll let Jessie tell you.

I wrote a book about depression. It was more than 90 years in the making.

It was more than a decade ago when I gifted my grandfather a book I had finished reading.

The book was called Darkness Visible by William Styron, an American novelist probably best known for writing Sophie’s Choice. It was published in 1990, the year I was born, and was a first-hand account of a major depressive episode he had experienced five years prior. It remains the best description of depression I have ever read.

When I handed it to my grandfather, I didn’t know if he’d read it. I can’t remember giving much context. But I do recall a phone call two weeks later.

“I went to the doctor today,” he told me.

“I showed him the book and said, ‘this. This is what I have’.”

My grandfather is now 96. Dementia, one of the cruellest afflictions, means his story seems to be evaporating before our eyes. In many ways it seems to be an extension of what has been the David and Goliath battle of his lifetime; himself up against his mind.

When he has reflected on his own mother, a hard, cold woman, I wonder if she too might have lived with depression. I imagine him to be a small, anxious boy who even as a child lived in his head. He first knew something was wrong in his twenties. And it persisted into his thirties, forties, and beyond. He was first medicated for depression in his eighties.

Then there’s my father. His son. Dad too first knew something was seriously wrong in his twenties. His depression was like a ghost that lived in our home growing up, reemerging the moment I thought it might have disappeared. It is a near universal pain, seeing a parent sad. And then there is seeing a parent sad, even though nothing sad has happened. You learn that sadness is not an affliction reserved for when bad things happen. It lives within us. Sometimes we are the bad thing that happens.

Then there’s me. Or rather us. My twin sister and I, both of whom have lived with anxiety and depression. Then my younger brothers, also twins, who have lived with the same disorders. Through years of conversations, we’ve wondered about the inheritability of mental illness. Almost a century has passed, and yet here I am, thinking the same thoughts as my grandfather did at the same age. Is happiness, or lack thereof, imprinted on our genes?

When my grandfather first felt, for certain, that something bad was going to happen, I wasn’t born. Neither was my father. But then in 2023, my first novel was published, the title encapsulating a thought that seems intrinsic to our genetic makeup: Something Bad Is Going To Happen.


While the book is not memoir, it endeavours to tell the story of my family’s most persistent struggle. It is a novel about utter despair, and the cost of not really living. Depression is a thief that means even when good things happen they cannot be experienced. It can rob us of everything that matters.

Halfway through writing Something Bad Is Going To Happen I fell pregnant. The next generation grew in my stomach as I tried to plot a downward spiral as accurately as I could, putting words around feelings my family had never managed to.

But this was always meant to be a novel about what it looks like to get better. A story about recovery. And as my baby kicked and hiccuped, getting ready for her due date, the novel turned to hope.

Andrew Solomon calls depression the “family secret everyone has”. For our family, it is no longer a secret. Writing Something Bad was an act of defiance. It was a refusal to accept that this is our lot, a prison we’re born into with no means of escape.

It was a book 90 years in the making.

I hope this is where it ends.

Jessie Stephens

Jessie Stephens

Dive headfirst into this beautiful story with this exclusive extract of Something Bad is Going to Happen!

Something Bad Is Going To Happen is available online and at your local Dymocks store.

Something Bad is Going to...
Jessie Stephens

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