With Robin Williams’ tragic death yesterday, I feel compelled to write. Whenever anyone dies prematurely it comes as a shock, but for some reason Williams’ passing struck me more deeply than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because I’ve always admired him both as a person and as an actor, but I think it has more to do with the manner in which he appears to have died. Although Williams was open about his struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, for some reason it never occurred to me that he might be suffering from depression as well. I mean, I know depression is often a precursor for substance abuse, (it’s a major player in my own issues, after all), but somehow I never connected the dots. I also know that depression affects millions of people, and that you can’t always tell which ones just by looking at them, but Williams’ death makes that more clear than ever. Because as much as I hate to admit my prejudice, in all honesty I was quite taken aback initially that someone as successful, funny, intelligent, talented, etc. as Robin Williams could EVER feel so desperate as to take their own life. It just goes to show you that you really can’t tell everything (or really much of anything) about a person simply by what you can see with your own eyes. People keep so much hidden, especially things they think they should be ashamed about or that other people might not understand. I certainly don’t feel comfortable sharing all the details of my personal struggles with people (blog notwithstanding…) — both out of residual shame and out of worrying what they might think.
But if Williams’ death can teach us anything, it’s that mental illness truly does not discriminate. And as much as I hate to quote a corny medication commercial, depression really DOES hurt everyone. In fact, in the United States, more people die from suicide than from homicide, with someone dying by suicide every 13.7 minutes. That, my friends, is a tragedy. For EVERYONE involved. And while it’s a complicated issue without any quick fixes, we can start by being more open about the topic of mental health. Blame, shame and embarrassment have no place here. We need to channel all of our energy into love, compassion and understanding.
If you’re struggling, tell someone about it. If you think someone is struggling, reach out. Above all, be kind. To everyone you meet. No man is an island: We’re all in this together. So share a smile and a kind gesture with someone today. You never know what they’re dealing with on the inside.
Rest in peace, Robin. May your tragic death be a wake up call to the world that we can’t keep our eyes closed any longer.