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mental health mondays :: anyone, anywhere, anytime

since you're on the internet, i'm assuming that you already know that comedian  actor consummate performer robin williams died earlier today, apparently from suicide. the reaction has ranged from shocked to astonished, with people who knew him personally or through his work trying to process the idea of someone who made a career out of being packed with highly unstable explosive life could die by his own hand.

it is always sad to lose an artist of any sort whose work has touched you, given you something you could connect to your own life. as it happens, williams did that for me on several occasions and he became one of many people i never met whose presence on earth made my life a little better. from what i've seen among my friends and acquaintances, i'm guessing that was a pretty common sentiment.

the fact that this appears to have been the result of a mental illness makes it that much sadder to me, because it further emphasizes how poorly understood even the most common mental disorders are. we're shocked to hear of robin williams' suicide because we can't imagine what reason he had to want to end his life, which points to a fundamental mistake in our thoughts about depression: we're still assuming that depressed people are depressed for a specific reason.

there were a couple of red flags in his past: robin williams had struggled for years with addiction, which is so frequently comorbid with mental disorders that it can be difficult to tell which is the primary condition and which is the symptom; and he had had open heart surgery, which is known to trigger depression. but in the end, someone as successful, financially secure and popular as robin williams seemed to have nothing that would drive him to suicide.

people do, of course, become depressed and commit suicide because of specific events or circumstances, in the same way that people have heart attacks because they are under tremendous stress, or because they've followed an extremely unhealthy diet for too long. but in the same way that heart attacks can strike seemingly out of nowhere, depression can just appear and start to dismantle the mind from the inside. it's called a disorder for a reason. things aren't working the way that they should. you can be anyone- a wealthy person [with racial and gender privilege], with adoring fans, a loving family, success in your calling, a beautiful home, but just as none of that is a guarantee you won't have a heart attack, none of it means you can't be pulled down by depression.

more importantly, it means that we can't continue to think of mental disorders like depression as if they were different than any other kind of ailment. because if they can take down someone like robin williams, who seemed to be in the very best position to fight them, imagine what they can do to the rest of us.

[p.s. :: amidst the outpouring of sentiment, many people have shared their personal favourites from williams' oeuvre. dead poets' society certainly struck a chord with me in my teens and i have always felt that mrs. doubtfire is the best family-oriented film on the subject of divorce ever made, but more recently, i've really come to love his work with writer/ director bobcat goldthwait, in particular world's greatest dad.]

Comments

Anonymous said…
Yeah, Robin's death came so unexpected :-( He was always so smiley and seemed so happy you know. Just goes to show how dangerous depression can be and how easily it can be hidden and missed.

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