This is the first time I have blogged on matters other than Florida and deviated from my somewhat clinical discourse on nature. Though I think some data is important and worth sharing, the real reason I’m adding this post is greatly emotional. Perhaps this seems all mundane in the face of world events, with parts of the Middle East once again in turmoil and with recent events in Ferguson, Missouri still echoing of racial violence and civic disorder. Yet I believe that Robin Williams’ death remains poignant amidst the chaos of our world.
I was truly saddened when I heard of Robin’s death, as perhaps most people familiar with his work also were. Because of this, I was nearly sickened when I heard of some of the unthinking or absolutely naive comments given by some of the media. Many of these blunders have been recanted and apologized for now, yet they still illustrated common myths held about depression and those that suffer from it. Perpetuating these myths just shows ignorance on the subject and pure supposition, certainly not any factual news. Fortunately, many agencies have come forward in the last few days to fight these false beliefs.
Robin was no coward, nor was he singularly flawed, nor even one of a rare group of isolated sufferers. He may have taken his life in private, yet he gave a face to millions of Americans suffering from depression, and even those abroad. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that more Americans currently die by suicide than by traffic accidents or homicide. In 2011 alone, 39,518 suicides were reported in the U.S., with many more probably not reported as such. That means suicide claimed someone every 13.3 minutes.
Depression is a bully that doesn’t care who it harms. It doesn’t care what age you are, what color or what gender you may be. It doesn’t matter what religion you may follow and nor does it matter what income level you may have. No single group is immune. And it certainly doesn’t give an excrement about what political party you may belong to!
Where does this horrible thing, depression, come from? There isn’t a simple, singular answer for this. Causes can include a number medical conditions, various medications, hormone imbalances, sleeping problems, traumatic early childhood events, and current stress factors. In other words, there’s a lot of reasons depression may happen. A number of sources list drug or alcohol abuse as a source for depression, but from my view, that has always been a case of ‘the chicken or the egg.’ Which came first? Did the addiction cause the depression or was depression the reason for seeking relief through ‘self-medicating’ and ultimately the resulting addiction? In truth, it probably doesn’t matter. It’s always a bad combination.
Why can depression be so deadly? How could it possibly have robbed us of someone so beloved as Robin Williams? Depression takes personal setbacks, sometimes even minor ones, and turns them into seemingly insurmountable blockades. It takes the seeds of doubt and fertilizes them into tangled jungles of despair. Depression can make you feel worthless or inferior, powerless, and forgotten. It can make you feel completely alone, even while in the company of people who love you. Wil Wheaton used the phrase, “Depression Lies.” No greater truth has ever been written about this disorder.
Why didn’t someone see Robin’s level of distress? How can a man, with over nine million, four hundred forty thousand ‘likes’ on his FaceBook page,* simply slip through the cracks? Not only is depression a liar, but it makes liars of its victims. Then agian, our society actually makes all of us liars, to some degree. You don’t think so? There is that seemingly unavoidable and often awkward greeting of, “How are you?” To answer with anything other than a short, positive response often makes many of the greeters uncomfortable, despite the fact that they’re the ones that asked! So we swallow our truths before they reach our voice, put on our socially acceptable, smiling faces and answer, “Fine,” even if we feel like dung. Many people who suffer long term depression can become quite adept at not publicly showing their pain.
And that brings me back to those false myths about people with depression somehow being flawed or weak. Because of these stigmas, it’s easy to feel ashamed of one’s own difficulties and many sufferers may choose not to inform others with the actual depth of their pain. We have to remove the stigma from depression!
The illusion of well being may be aided by the fact that depression isn’t a constant, stable thing. Degrees of depression can change even by the hour, as hormone levels and chemical balances change throughout the day. Someone might feel only slight depression during one time of day, but it might become overwhelming at other times.
When you’re suffering from depression, often the single hardest thing to do is to reach out to other people…but that’s exactly what you have to do. Don’t fold in on yourself. Depression is very often treatable and there are people out there that can help! Many insurance providers will authorize counseling and can most likely recommend someone to help you. Your nearest library can help find local resources for you. If you feel that you’ve reached the end, call a hotline! 1-800-273-TALK (8255) / http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. They can help you find reason to live!
Robin admitted long ago that he suffered from depression. It seems that what sustained him, for many, many years, was his ability to entertain and he left us a wealth of gifts we can continue to enjoy and pass on to future generations. He loved to make people laugh. It’s the joy of this shared love we can hold onto.
Something occurred to me as I was remembering Robin’s works. I had thought, sadly, that after his few works still in post production are released, that there would never again be another new Robin Williams performance. Then I remembered Mork and Mindy on TV. When the show was new, television was still broadcast. The broadcast used analog radio signals…signals that escaped our world and into space. Though the signals expand and diffuse as they travel farther and farther away, like the ripples from a stone tossed into the ocean, some part of them will still touch new worlds, even millions of years from now. His signal will always be new, somewhere out there. There is a happiness in knowing that a little bit of Robin and his fun loving alien will continue to visit other worlds for a long, long time to come.
* As of August 21, 2014
1-800-273-TALK (8255) Crisis Lifeline
1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) Crisis Hotline
LGBT Youth Suicide Hotline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR