I grew up watching Robin Williams on Mork and Mindy. I loved that alien. I didn’t understand the scope of his talent as a child but I knew that every week he made me laugh. I enjoyed watching Mr. Williams embrace roles in the films we all love like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. I came to appreciate him as an amazing talent with incredible range.
I wasn’t aware that Robin Williams suffered from depression. Who would think that a man that could make so many of us laugh until we cried had such depths of despair? To know that he had issues with addiction just seemed par for the course for those in Hollywood. What an amazing legacy to have left behind but in his suicide, what a contradiction. Not to negate anything Mr. Williams did; his giving spirit, his humanity was, for me, what made his most beautiful. He not only raised money for AIDS, he entertained the troops and committed himself to eradicating homelessness through Comic Relief. To always make sure that we collectively felt joy while not being able to find his own is beyond tragic.
Robin Williams’ suicide will draw much needed attention toward depression and suicide and that is one positive that can be drawn from this sad situation. His suicide will highlight hopefully, and not temporarily, the struggles of mental health and why some people can see no other choice but suicide in an attempt to end the pain. Mr. Williams’ death will open the dialogue. And perhaps such a high profile and beloved celebrity taking his own life will take away the stigma of acknowledging depression and suicide.
So many people that do not suffer from depression have a hard time fully understanding how debilitating depression can be. The definition of depression; feeling sad, blue, unhappy and miserable, undermines the severity of the disease. Millions of Americans suffer from depression, and according to a Surgeon General report, African Americans are over-represented in populations that are particularly at risk for mental illness. Some are able to take medications that help stabilize their mood in combination with psychotherapy. But even with recovery, depression can be chronic and can return. Why some people are able to beat the disease while others battle a lifetime is complex, indicating a genetic component to the disease.
Robin Williams had a history of heart disease and was newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s. These health issues can compound the effects of depression. But we will never know why Mr. Williams took his life. Our thoughts are with his family. While we lost an amazing actor, they lost a father, husband, and friend. Their loss is immeasurable and it will take time for there to be any healing from such a tremendous loss.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, some of the warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness
- Feelings of being trapped, desperate or anxious
- Having persistent sadness or depression
- Becoming more angry or irritable
- Losing interest in life or loved ones
- Having sleep problems
- Contacting people and seeming to say goodbye
If we can learn anything from this tragedy, please be aware of the impending signs of suicide and start the conversation.
photo credit: David Castillo Dominici/FDP.net