Those who have been following this blog for any length of time know that I am fairly upfront about my struggle with depression. When I read yesterday that Robin Williams had passed away in an apparent suicide, my heart broke. I was never a huge Robin Williams die-hard fan; in fact, at times I found his free-association style a bit annoying. The two movies of his that I really, really enjoy ever time have already been referenced in this post. It wasn't merely that a Hollywood legend and icon had left this world; it was the manner by which he left.
Williams too was fairly vocal about his struggle with depression. And yet, there are many who heard the news and thought, "How could someone who brought so much laughter be that far gone?" "I never would have expected him to commit suicide."
And therein lies the problem with mental health awareness.
The plain and simple fact is that depression is silent more often than not. On my very worst days, the days I contemplated flooring my car into a tree and just being done with it, I went to work or class and made everyone believe that nothing was wrong. I smiled. I joked. I wore a mask to hide the fact that inside, I was dying more slowly than I would have liked. And that's exactly what many people who suffer from depression do.
Because depression has a stigma. Because it gets really old hearing people ask, "What do you have to be depressed about? You have X, Y and Z going for you. Life should be grand." Because depression isn't always the product of something that happened or didn't happen. Because depression can be the result of a chemical imbalance in your body. You wouldn't tell someone to just "snap out of" having diabetes, would you? And yet, that's exactly how mental illness often is viewed in our society.
Perhaps a friend of mine put it better:
Mental illness affects all kinds of people. It doesn't have a look or a type. It doesn't care what you do, how much money you make, or whether or not you have the talent to make people laugh. Someone who looks happy on the outside could be fighting some nasty demons on the inside. So, to honor Mr. Williams, I would like to get rid of some of the stigma that comes with mental illness. It is a daily struggle for some. I am one of them. I fight my own demons. Tonight, I want you to know that you are not alone. You are worthy, and you are enough.
Please let this tragedy serve as a reminder to us all. It is impossible to guess what any other person you encounter in life--whether it be your barista in the morning or your friend at work or your life partner--might be hiding. Be kind to those around you, and educate yourself on what depression is and what it looks like.
And if you personally are struggling, please know that you are not alone. Believe me, I know that you feel you are. I know that depression is isolating and crippling and terribly, terribly lonely. But I know something else, too: Depression lies. (And while I'm linking to The Bloggess, here also is this bit of brilliance and a list of things that might help.
One last word to anyone out there who might be feeling desperate: Please, please, please just take two seconds to reach out to someone in your life. Anyone. I promise you, they will be glad you did. And if you think you have no one, please call a suicide hotline. They want to help you. In the U.S. and Canada, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you're outside these areas, here is a list of suicide crisis lines worldwide.
I'll end this post with one last thought from Dead Poets Society: "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."