Robin Williams and Mental Illness

Like most people, I was completely floored by the news last night that Robin Williams had died, and even more shocked by the revelation that he’d committed suicide.  There have been some great articles written in the last 12 hours or so, detailing how someone as funny and perpetually as amusing as he was could possibly be suffering from mental illness and keep it hidden, so this won’t be one of them — I’m not a professional writer, nor am I a mental health care professional.  What I can talk to you about though, is the feeling of, “If he can kill himself, what’s stopping me?”  Like many, many Americans, I’ve battled depression.  Not to the point that I’d ever take my own life, I’m far too much of a coward to do that, but enough that sometimes getting up in the morning can be a real chore.  No one in my family knows about it.  It’s not something I talk about, because it’s not something I know they’ll take seriously.  I don’t have the resources to see a doctor or go on any medication, so I’ve basically been left to deal with alone.  I know how that can sometimes turn out.  Now, I’m not saying my parents don’t love me, or that they think depression is caused by not eating enough carrots or something, rather I don’t think they’d think I was being serious about it.  It wouldn’t be callousness on their part, but instead a measure of disbelief.  I don’t necessarily appear depressed, so to their mind, it must mean I’m not.  Everyone has an idea of what depression looks like, and if they conjured it up, it would look like someone wearing baggy, shapeless clothes, shuffling around with unkempt hair, watery eyes like they’ve been crying, and a downcast turn to their mouths.  That’s true for some people.  Not for all.  I get quiet, even if I’ve got a smile on my face.  I retreat to my bedroom and read, or I write, or I listen to music.  However, I do it all alone.  I’ve always been uncomfortable in social situations, and to this day have trouble making small talk in person.  I can talk for England on the Internet, as this blog post will no doubt demonstrate, but face-to-face, I’m hopeless.  For me, my depression is retreating into myself, becoming very small and very still.  I don’t shuffle around, I’m not crying.

If we can learn anything from Robin Williams’s death, I hope it’s that mental illness doesn’t care who you are or what you are.  You could be a king, you could be homeless; it’ll affect you just the same.  Hopefully someone, somewhere, will be spurred into getting the help they need, or maybe a friend or a family member of someone battling depression or bipolar disorder will decide to do something.  It’s the most we can hope for in the wake of such a tragedy.

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