Last month, I was sitting on my sofa with my laptop when I saw the headline “Robin Williams Found Dead.” I was shocked and deeply saddened by the news and the loss. It seemed like such a conundrum as to why someone with his persona would commit suicide. As more information was revealed about his addictions, his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, and his dealing with severe depression, I totally understood how this unfortunate incident could occur.
Of course, the naysayers had to emerge and utter incoherent ramblings about cowardice and his leftist views that made him unhappy. All of the unintelligent garbage that gets reported needs to be tossed away promptly. Suicide is not an act of cowardice, but a result of depression or other mental illnesses. Robin Williams’s death is a tragedy, but if it can help start a national conversation about depression and mental illness then something positive can come from an untimely death.
It seems that many people view mental illness through a stereotype of straitjackets and padded cells. Mental illness encompasses many forms and can be as blatant as someone with agitated, incoherent behavior. It also can have very subtle signs, which makes a person appear to have nothing wrong with them. I understand the symptoms and the impact, because I suffer from severe depression and anxiety. It is a hard condition to understand because it affects emotions. This makes it difficult for those unfamiliar with the disease to comprehend as a real illness.
Believe me, it is just as real as diabetes, cancer, hypertension or any other disease that hides beneath the surface. It requires treatment just the same as diabetics require medication to keep their condition stable.
Depression is as old as recorded history. Years ago people thought of it as melancholia. The prevailing notion would be “he just needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps.” It was an uneducated thought that if you were sad, you would just get glad again. It was a self-inflicted pity party. The more the condition was studied and as medical advances were made, clinicians realized that there are many factors and conditions involved with the illness. Depression has many causes and can stem from genetic predisposition, life events, faulty mood regulation by the brain, and medical problems.
Whatever the specific cause for depression, there are always chemicals in the brain involved. There are many drugs available for treatment, but each person can react differently due to internal chemical reactions to the medications. The complexity of the illness is daunting for practitioners. They can’t simply review similar symptoms and think that the treatment will be the same for each patient.
I have taken many of the medications prescribed for depression and anxiety. It can be simply a trial and error procedure to find the right drug. It appears that anxiety and depression go hand in hand in most cases. A doctor once told me that most sufferers are what he refers to as “anxiously depressed.” It can be hard to separate one from the other when the disease takes hold. Most people can have a day where they feel down, and there is nothing wrong with being sad. Grief can certainly bring emotions to an all-time low, but most people recover, and don’t get stuck in a spiral that can become all-consuming. The inability to control those feelings of helplessness and despair are what individuals with depression experience.
For people to think that suicide is a coward’s way out is like thinking that someone who succumbed to cancer didn’t fight hard enough. Both outcomes are the result of a disease. Suicide and thinking of death are serious symptoms of depression. Talking about suicide is a cry for help – don’t ignore it. Be aware of the signs of depression so that you can help yourself or a friend.