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.