Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

A few words on depression, suicide, celebrities, and everyone else

I hadn’t planned on writing a post today but I have a few things I need to say.

In case you haven’t seen or heard the news, actor Robin Williams died yesterday, and the cause of death was suicide. It’s a tragic, horrible situation and so many are mourning the loss of an incredible and talented performer on social media, in the news, or in private. And that’s fine. You do what you need to do to make sense of it.

For me, though, it’s a bit different. It is frustrating to me, someone who battles depression every day, to see this hyper focus on mental illness and suicide simply because a celebrity dies as a result. Depression is an every day battle for millions of people, and every day, many of them take their lives. Yet no one floods their Twitter or Facebook feeds with pictures, memes or quotes from those every day, yet equally special, people. I get that perhaps people are taken aback with this because there is a cultural perception that celebrities are invincible. They have money, fame, and everything we place value on. They bring joy and happiness to others. So how can they be depressed?

That, to me, highlights just how misinterpreted depression is. Depression is a mental illness, caused by internal factors, not external ones. No matter how incredible your life may seem on the outside, depression wreaks havoc on your insides. Mentally, emotionally, physically. Depression skews your perception of everything and it feels impossible to make anyone understand what’s going on (for a great depiction, check out Allie Brosch’s comics on depression. She says is better than I ever could). Depression makes you feel alone and isolated. Depression takes away all the things normal people take for granted.

Depression is more than just sadness.

Robin Williams’s influence on pop culture is undeniable. Some of his movies are among the best ever, and are some of my personal favorites, and it is no doubt because of the talent he leant to those movies. His talent was unique. His mental illness was not.

And for me, that’s the tragic part.

We, as a society, need to take the stigma out of mental illness and start making it okay for people to be open about their struggles. And those of us who have it need to break the barriers and make sure we talk about it (besides Allie Brosch, two others who are fantastically open about their depression are Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) and Joe Pantoliano’s book. There’s also some wonderful TED talks on depression, including this one from a comic). We need to let others know they’re not alone. We need to encourage those contemplating suicide to seek professional help rather than inundate them with glib sayings about how happiness is a choice and it will all be better. We need to generate a better understanding of the disease.

We must support, and remember, everyone who is fighting against depression and other mental illnesses.

Not just the celebrities.

17 Comments

  1. Kristen

    It’s horrible, and sad that people need to see something ‘close to them’ to open their eyes. I lost a dear friend in a drunk driving accident when I was 15 (we were crossing the road) and I had never really thought about driving drunk before, because I didn’t even drive then (or drink) but now it is something I absolutely do not condone, not that you should, but some people are just like ‘oh it wont happen to me’ and I want to slap them.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s sad that this has sparked so much media attention because it was Robin Williams, and not because of his mental illness, however hopefully this will bring more awareness that just because he was a celebrity and appeared happy and was a part of all of our childhoods and made us laugh so hard we peed our pants -just because of all of that, he was not ok. which means millions of people are in the same situation, they already were, but hopefully now it will be more of a focus for the rest of the world.
    sorry. long comment. i just really loved robin williams, sigh.
    Kristen recently posted…Plum crazy about these cobalt shorts…My Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      No need to apologize. Say your piece, however long it takes 🙂

      I agree that sometimes it does take a celebrity to bring awareness to an issue or topic. Right now, and rightfully so, people are choosing to focus on what a talented performer he is rather than the issue he faced that caused this horrible thing to happen to him and his family. But we need a conversation about mental illness, particularly depression and bipolar disorder (which I believed he suffered from). If this tragic even makes that happen, there might be a silver lining.

      We also need to remember that this is a daily issue, not an issue du jour because a celebrity was affected.

      Reply
  2. Nadine

    It makes me sad to think that someone that brought so much happiness and laughter to others had his own personal struggles of depression. You are right, it is something that MILLIONS of people suffer from every day and it often goes overlooked or comes with a bad stigma attached to it. I think it is something that people should openly talk about. I feel like that is the reason that some people can’t understand it, because it isn’t much talked about.

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      It is hard to reconcile how someone so funny can be so depressed, yet it is all too common. Many of us with depression are good at masking how we feel, mainly as a source of survival. Inside, though, it’s completely different.

      We need to be talking about this more than just today. We need to make those who don’t understand, understand.

      Reply
  3. Jenniemarie @ Another Housewife

    This: DEPRESSION IS MORE THAN JUST SADNESS!!!

    As I was skimming the reaction to his death I saw over and over people who I am guessing are trying to be helpful saying, “If you are sad please get help.” Look I am sad that Robin Williams lost his battle. It’s a battle I fight every. single. day. but sadness is not the same as being depressed! This, this is why the stigma exist and this is why we need to start taking this seriously, like years ago.

    While I have not had a single suicidal thought since my teen years (and that was like two decades ago!) the knowledge of the depth of despair depression can cause is scary. This is why I have begin to talk openly about my battle.

    It was hard the day my health insurance sent our invoice and next to my name under conditions it said, “Mental Illness” the same way next to my son’s name it said ‘Asthma” and my initial reaction was shame. It took a while for me to accept it.

    While I understand the tributes because of his incredible gift, I truly hope that the conversations about Mental Illness is continued. There is no shame in having a mental illness just as there is no shame in having asthma, neither is something we chose to have.

    Sorry to hijack your post… I’m not planning on writing a post so I did it here 🙂
    Jenniemarie @ Another Housewife recently posted…It Is Well With My SoulMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      No apologies necessary. Say anything, and as much, as you want.

      You are exactly right. The equating of sadness to depression is partly why there is a misunderstanding and a stigma. It’s not a choice to be depressed. If it were, would anyone actually choose it?

      I appreciate your willingness to be so open about your struggles. Thank you <3

      Reply
  4. Kristin

    I had really hoped that the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have brought the discussion about mental illness to center stage. Even in Connecticut, where the shooting took place, we got new gun laws but the bills dealing with support for mental illness died in the legislature. I fear that once again, there will be a lot of discussion on the topic but no real actions.
    Kristin recently posted…Frugal Frustrations: Shrinking ProductsMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      That is a huge soapbox issue for me–treating the symptom rather than the problem (okay, in that situation, there are multiple problems). But we need to be addressing mental health in a better way. It’s a shame that it is dismissed so easily.

      Reply
  5. Kerry

    It is so sad that a tragic event causes so much commotion because of the celebrity status and not the reason behind it. So many people suffer with Depression everyday. Hopefully more awareness comes, and those who need help get the help. Everyone contributes to the world in their own way regardless of status.
    Kerry recently posted…Chorizo NachosMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      Truth! Everyone makes a contribution, not just celebrities and we need to talk about and remember that. I hope this brings about more awareness but sadly, I think the topic will go away by next week.

      Reply
  6. SMD @ Life According to Steph

    Depression is way more than just sadness.

    Every time this happens with a celebrity it’s a big hoopla then people forget depression and mental illness exist until the next time it happens.
    SMD @ Life According to Steph recently posted…Shit MFD Said Vol. 8My Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      You’re right. And that is part of what infuriates me so much. It’s trendy and bandwagony to talk about it now, while it’s relevant to a celebrity. But soon, it’ll fade into the background.

      Reply
  7. kathy @ vodka and soda

    SUPPORT.

    i battled depression for a long time after kayla was born so i know first hand how it completely isolates you from everything and every good thing around you.

    this person at work said something like, he had everything – wife, kids, house, money etc why was he depressed? and i legit looked at him and nearly said STFU when someone interjected and said it in a more PC way.

    that’s the thing with depression; i hate it when people are all “oh, why can you just snap out of it?” but only those who have never suffered from it can’t imagine how debilitating and paralyzing depression can be. there are too many who suffer in silence, we definitely need to break those barriers and stigmas around depression.

    thanks for this wonderful post.
    kathy @ vodka and soda recently posted…tacky shitMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I think part of the problem is that the word “depression” has become so devalued. It’s overused for the smallest, most ridiculous things that when someone truly is depressed, people who don’t suffer from it can’t wrap their heads around what it truly means.

      It’s such a difficult disease to comprehend and what makes me angry is how many people don’t want to understand it. They think they do because they were situationally sad for a few days. But you and I both know how ridiculous that is. It’s not the same. And we need make others understand that.

      Reply
  8. Amanda

    I agree with you… it can affects anyone and it’s ALWAYS sad when it does. I wish that this would bring more awareness to it, but, unfortunately I think it’s just a flash in the pan kind of thing… something else will happen and people will move on and forget about mental health issues until something like this happens again. :/

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I think you’re right. Next week, we’ll move on to the next thing and this will all be forgotten about. Which is a tragedy in it’s own right.

      Reply
  9. Linda Sheridan

    The best books I have read on mental illness are by Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychotherapist who suffers from bipolar disorder. She has helped many, I am sure. She has lived it and studied it.
    I believe we write our charts on the other side & we perfect our souls while we are here based on experiences we chose before being born into this life. It really makes sense when I question why things happen. Everything happens for a reason. Perhaps the reaction to Robin ending his torment will help many get help.
    Love and lights to all who suffer and have loved ones who suffer
    from depression, etc.
    Much love, SMD’s Momma

    Reply

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