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.
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