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Ruby Wax tells graduates 'never give up' after receiving honorary doctorate from UEL

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Actor and comedian is honoured for her work as a mental health campaginer

By Lee Pinkerton 

Ruby Wax, the much-loved actor comedian and mental health activist, had some unusual advice for an audience of newly graduating University of East London (UEL) students: "embrace failure".

Ruby is associated more with the success than failure, having achieved fame as a comedian and comedy writer before becoming a qualified mindfulness speaker and mental health campaigner.

But after receiving an honorary Doctorate of Psychology at a ceremony at London's indigo at The 02, she told fellow graduates that her life had been as much about failure as success

“I’ve failed so many times," she said. "I got rejected from drama school six times.  But don’t think that failure is the end of it. If you have the strength to keep going, everybody else who can’t take it will fall by the wayside. If you don’t give up, every time you succeed, you’ve got more muscle.”

Ruby began her career as a straight actor, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978, but switched to comedy in the mid-80s when she starred in and co-wrote the TV sitcom Girls on Top.

In the early 1990s, Ruby landed a high-profile chat show on the BBC, Ruby Wax Meets, in which interviewed public figures such as Imelda Marcos, Pamela Anderson and Donald Trump.

But after becoming one of the most familiar faces on British TV, Ruby turned her attention to the study of psychotherapy and neuroscience. 

Ruby said, “I failed at school. They didn’t have a word for dyslexia back then. In high school I was put into a remedial class. But the brain is a muscle. If you keep exercising it, it gets stronger. Forty years later I went to Oxford. If that’s not neuro-plasticity, then nothing is.”

Ruby was awarded a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling from Regent’s College, London, and in 2013 she graduated from Kellogg College, Oxford, with an MSc in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

She now runs management workshops for business leaders and enables them to find a deeper and more direct level of communication with clients and colleagues. Her workshops combine humour with theoretical and scientific learning.

Ruby has also become a leading speaker and campaigner on mental health issues. She has been open about her own experiences of clinical depression, which she highlighted in her 2010 stage show, Losing It. 

She said, “With every other illness, if it goes wrong you get sympathy and ‘Get Well Soon’ cards, except with the brain.  If that goes down, everybody walks away.”  

Ruby is patron of the British Neuroscience Association and is an ambassador for Mind and SANE. She has also run support groups for sufferers and is an active mental health campaigner on social media. Her work was recognised in 2015 when she was awarded an OBE for services to mental health
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She said, “Physically we’ve evolved enough. We have our full quota of thumbs and we run fast enough. But we need to evolve psychologically to keep up with the machinery.

“Unless we learn to navigate all the stimulation that’s out there, then we’re going to go under. Psychologists are going to be the saviours.”