It’s no surprise that the death of Robin Williams has affected so many who feel a tremendous devotion to him and found the news terribly heartbreaking. Williams is one celebrity many feel they know intimately, though they have never met. And so outstanding is his legacy and laughter, many feel as if they are grieving a close friend.
That the clown who filled us with such laughs suffered from such a sad, seemingly unfitting illness leaves perhaps an even bitterer taste. Williams was open about his struggles, describing the loneliness and fear that pushed him towards alcohol. According to the mental health foundation, depression affects one in five people over 65.
Adoring a celebrity, someone who can only interact back with us as a smear of fans and not an individual, leads to many of the wider symptoms of celebrity deaths. The associated shock and guilt follows Williams too. With the world’s eye on him, a man so honest and open about his struggles, how was he not helped?
A naïve question, perhaps, given the notorious unreliability of treating depression. If Williams’ death proves to be a suicide, even with access to all the treatment and attention money and influence can buy, an understanding emerges about how difficult depression is to treat for a celebrity, let alone those with less resources. Depression simply will not discriminate between those glimmering lifestyles strewn over covers of magazines, seen by so many as the key to happiness, and lifestyles filled with tragedy, serious illness or other depression risk factors.
Perspectives need to change. Alarmingly, some people see depression as a sign of weakness, something sufferers can ‘snap out of’, an excuse used to get out of the tougher aspects of life or just selfishness. In reality sufferers are simply not thinking the same way as those who are not depressed. To expect them to break free from their depression, not get swallowed by it, is like expecting a paraplegic to walk.
Depression needs to be put in the same terms as physical illness and, when it is, perspectives change: depression is one of the most fatal diagnoses, with a mortality rate of up to 15 percent according to DNA Learning Center.
Depression is not akin to when you’re feeling down for a few days which, in an unfortunate twist of our language, many describe as “feeling depressed”; clinical depression is a debilitating illness that may not be as obvious, understandable or treatable as many physical illness but is as different from “feeling depressed” as a graze is from a broken leg.
Compared to the robust treatment for most physical illnesses, treatment for mental illness is lacking. Drugs sometimes don’t work at all. Yet mental illness is something that is likely to affect all of us, one way or another. Awareness and the exposure of ignorance can only be a good thing.
Please read this touching, honest blog on what it’s like to suffer from depression: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90.