I was very sorry to read the news of Robin William’s death yesterday. What a sad ending for a man who has brought such joy into people’s lives through laughter. How ironic that such a “funny” man could end his life by his own hand, communicating to the world that his private world had become decidedly unfun, unmanageable and out of control. His publicist stated that Williams had been suffering from a severe depression over the past several months.
There are several messages that can be discerned from William’s suicide:
One is obvious: appearances can be deceiving. A public image is not the same as the private person and it is inaccurate to assume that seeing celebrities at a distance offers any real glimpse into the angst they may be facing. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s recent drug overdose comes to mind regarding this. However, this is not confined to celebrities: that neighbor of yours who seems to have such a great life might be suffering quietly, as well.
A second is that major depression is a dark and difficult foe. While there can be environmental and psychological factors that contribute to depression, many scientists now believe that a biochemical imbalance is a major contributor. As such, the treatment of choice includes a strictly monitored pharmaceutical intervention, augmented by psychological counseling. This “drug therapy” intervention is not aided in any way by the addition of alcohol – a depressant – that is often used to self-medicate. The fact that Williams admitted publicly in 2006 that he was off the wagon after almost 20 years of sobriety, and that as recently as last month he spent time in a Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center demonstrates that he had once again been struggling with his alcohol addiction. Another irony: William’s crutch to cope with his depression was something that actually exacerbated his depression.
The third lesson here is that nobody is immune to major depression. It doesn’t matter how successful, rich, beautiful or talented you may be. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, major depression is the fourth leading cause of death and disability and is expected to rise to second by 2020. This means this is something we all will be (or already are) affected by, directly or indirectly, and that we need to learn more about so that we are not operating from myths or erroneous information. Below is a link that provides current information on this debilitating condition.
As for Robin Williams, my heart is heavy. A sad commentary indeed to lose a man whose comic exuberance has brightened so many people’s lives. However, this is a wake-up call to us all to take major depression very seriously.
Thank you, Mr. Williams, for bringing smiles to so many people. Rest now in peace.