Tragic death may serve to shine light on depression

No matter how severe the tragedy, there is usually something positive that can be gained from it.
Aug 29, 2014


The recent suicide of Robin Williams is one such tragedy. That such a talented actor decided he needed to end his life at age 63 is extremely sad.

Williams had a previous heart ailment and, more recently, we learned the genius actor also had the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Those are generally understood ailments, but it was a much more mysterious disease — depression — that did him in.

People understand when they hear about a diseased heart. But even though gains have been made, we don’t know how to react to a disease of the mind.

Many in the medical profession say give me a physical ailment to treat anytime before a mental malady. Similarly, patients of physical illnesses often talk easily about their ailments, while so many people suffering from depression try to keep it a secret.

We need to be as open about our mental illnesses as we are with our physical ailments. It’s very hard to treat someone if he or she doesn’t talk about what’s troubling them.

Hopefully, in the wake of Williams’ tragic death, we learn this.

The stigma has hindered the country's progress in reducing suicide. Many people don't understand depression as a medical issue, instead viewing it as a moral failing. We shrug it off and tell those suffering from depression to “pull themselves up by their boot straps.” It’s not that easy.

We need to communicate about depression and treat it like we do other illnesses. There's a good chance that someone will understand what you're going through. There's nothing to hide. Reach out and ask for help.

Williams’ widow said it so well: "It is our hope in the wake of Robin's tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

Mental health advocates say they hope his death will renew efforts to prevent suicide. There is a suicide every 13 minutes in the U.S., which comes out to more than 39,000 annually. That is so tragic.

"He was such a charismatic and beloved figure, that if his death can galvanize our society to act instead of just grieve, it will be a fitting memorial to him," said Jeffrey Lieberman, professor and chairman of psychiatry at New York's Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

We strongly agree.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty, Fred VandenBrand and Mark Brooky. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.




I have to say that I often don't agree with what I read in print. However, generally speaking I believe this is an excellent article. Robin Williams' death was extremely tragic, a comedy and theatrical genius, blessed with a God given talent. People that are funny often draw from insecurities or past tragedy, a learned coping mechanism if you will. People then expect them to be "always on", which is unrealistic. Depression and mental illness are manifested in a real way, with the cause obviously debatable, involving different variables and opinions. Mental illness dramatically not only affects the person but also friends and loved ones close to that person. It is difficult to grasp or understand if you have not personally experienced it or been affected by it. I personally believe that the catalyst often is a spiritual problem, thus eliciting a Nouthetic approach, but also can be medically induced. The medical field often looks at these people as sub-standard in my opinion, with a definite stigma attached. It is often only viewed as a real illness when it involves an "accomplished" or famous person. I can testify that although there are those that may use this illness as a guise to achieve some sort of personal gain, there are many that are substantially affected in a real way. God's word is very powerful and can be used in an awesome way, providing real hope for this very real problem: Deuteronomy 31:8, Psalm 34:17. 1 Peter 5:6-7.


I really don't understand it either. He had millions and millions of dollars. Can easily see a guy around his age feeling that way if he works at Shape through a temp service. Or worse yet can't even get a job. Getting old is the pits. The golden years just plain stink. They keep sending me that $2500 property tax bill twice a year with fail or glitch and don't bother asking if I can pay it on a fixed income. Its understandable for a person on a temp agency or no job, no pension, no insurance to commit suicide. But I don't get it when a guy like him does it.


Money doesn't guarantee happiness, or peace of mind for that matter. I can't make it any easier for you than that. If you really want to know why then do some reading on the subject.


Obviously if you own a home that has taxes of $2500 twice a year, you too have plenty of money. And yet you are complaining about having to pay those taxes on a fixed income. Everybody's circumstances are different and until you live in their shoes you have no right to judge them.


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