I sat at my desk in disbelief, as many people did, with the sad and tragic news that one of comedy’s greats had passed. This wasn’t an ordinary death, but one with an underlying illness that we so often disregard because of the negative connotations and perceptions society has bestowed upon it.
Robin Williams touched so many lives through the power of laughter. He brought light to many people who were suffering even though he was living in his own darkness. His unexpected passing brought mixed emotions. I could not hold back my tears as I watched the nightly news. I felt anger because this man took his own life due to a sickness that is often brushed aside, and I felt deep sorrow for the pain he must have been suffering. How could such a talented and delightful person live a life of torment caused by this evil disorder?
His death speaks volumes of the negative grip this disease takes on people. For decades I feel we have put mental illness on the back burner and overlooked its value as a true sickness. Depression doesn’t care who you are and it never discriminates – just like any other disease. I turned to Daniel Pacheco, MD, chief medical officer for Banner Behavioral Health and asked him to weigh in on this tragedy.
“Robin Williams’ suicide was a very sad end to a tragic play. He has had well documented struggles with depression and substance abuse,” explains Dr. Pacheco. “When individuals are in the depths of their depression, suicide is seen as the only option to end their pain and the pain they feel they are inflicting on others. Depression magnifies anything and everything that is going wrong in one’s life. It is a dark ‘black hole’ that not even light can penetrate.”
Dr. Pacheco continued to explain how as a society we need to lose the mental health stigma since it is the leading cause of disability in the United States and second leading disability worldwide. “Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in US,” said Dr. Pacheco.
The population that is most at risk and increasing is men 50 to 64 years of age. Unfortunately, every 13 minutes someone in United States dies from suicide.
For those in immediate crisis the Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255 is a phone call away. Banner Behavioral Health Hospital is another avenue of help. The Banner Psychiatric Center is available 24/7 for adults who feel they are in crisis.
While I’m disheartened that it has taken a tragic loss of a celebrity to again cast light on the negative implications of mental illness, I am also buoyed by the fact that there is help out there. The night I heard about Williams’ death I wrote:
I hope that after this tragedy we start to look at mental illness in a different light. We search the ends of the earth to find cures for cancer, HIV or other deadly ailments, but have such disregard for the mentally ill. We need to foster an environment that encourages people to seek help and treatment instead of hide in the shadows of humiliation.
I have taken a personal vow to stand up and help the fight against depression and mental illness. No one should ever feel alone or in silence and if you know someone suffering from any mental condition, please encourage that person to seek medical attention.
In the words of Robin Williams, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
For more information about depression visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. If you or a loved one is dealing with depression, please take this depression quiz and share with your physician.