Robin Williams and the Stigma of Depression

 I generally don’t get too worked up when a celebrity dies. My attitude is, unless you know him or her personally, it’s hard to have any sort of attachment one way or another. But as I sat there in the break room of my second job and finding out from Facebook that Robin Williams had dies, I immediately felt a twinge of horror and disbelief. When I later found out that he committed suicide, it deepened my sadness, for I had heard that he had struggled with addiction and depression throughout his life. A post Lewis Black put up on his Facebook page summed it up for me:

Fuck the demons that took Robin from us. His generosity of spirit was as boundless as his comedy. I will miss him terribly.

 I have suffered from depression and anxiety in my life, especially when I was younger. I remember the sense of hopelessness and the inability to feel happiness no matter what I did. I also know that most of the time it is often a biological phenomenon, when our neurotransmitters are out of whack and wreak havoc on our mental well-being. Certainly, these effects can be exacerbated by drug or alcohol abuse, which affected individuals usually take to forget the pain and darkness they feel, but in the end make the depression even worse, and makes one feel even more hopeless. Many times those suffering from this horrible disease think suicide is the only way to escape from the living hell they are going through. Some are able to fight the battle against this evil chimera and win. Unfortunately, Robin lost that battle, though he fought valiantly for most of his adult life to overcome it.

 So when I hear people calling Mr. Williams a “coward”, or say that he should just have “snapped out of it”, it makes me want to throat-punch the ignorant fucks. “He was rich and famous, what did he have to be depressed about?” is another common refrain. I realize not all of the people spouting this crap are trying to be malicious; some have simply never experienced depression and don’t understand the sort of grey pall it casts over one’s life, no matter how great that life appears to the outside world. They don’t understand that the sort of depression that Mr. Williams suffered from was not what is commonly referred to “feeling down”, which is usually brought on by some external factors such as losing one’s job or close family member. This disease is one which comes seemingly from nowhere, with nothing to presage its onset many times, independent of anything that may be occurring in one’s life, and this is what makes it so frightening and debilitating. For if one doesn’t know what the cause of a condition is, how does one fight it? You may feel alone and terrified to reveal your problem, because you think you might end up in a mental institution. It is under these circumstances that many people feel they have no recourse but to take their own life, because the pain is too much to bear.

 This is not the “coward’s way out”. Unless you know the true horror of deep depression, you don’t get to say a god damn word about the proper way to deal with the disease. You don’t get to sit in high judgment on someone when you have no idea what is going on in someone else’s internal world. I was fortunate enough to emerge from my depression with the help of medication and family support, but not everyone has that, or they may be too proud to ask for it. And I certainly didn’t have it chronically like Mr. Williams seems to have had. He probably got tired of fighting those demons Mr. Black spoke of, since he had been doing it his whole life. So I will not judge him. Neither should anyone else. The most we can do is try to increase our understanding as a society so people won’t say the ignorant shit that seems to spew forth like a geyser of sewage every time something like this happens. We must also, finally, treat mental illness seriously and stop sweeping it under the rug. We’ve seen the mentally ill take the lives of children at an elementary school, as well as patrons in a theater. And we’ve seen take one of the funniest, most generous, and most kind-hearted human ever to roam this planet. Let’s try our damnedest to make sure that it doesn’t take any more precious lives.

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