Earlier today, news broke that Robin Williams had allegedly committed suicide. The actor, known for his comedic films and uplifting roles, had been battling severe depression and had recently entered rehab to battle alcohol addiction.
What makes the passing of this Hollywood legend-to-be so shocking was that the roles he played were often characters who were in a position to offer help and support. He was the quintessential good guy. And for people of our generation, he’s an actor who’s always maintained a presence on the big screen performing those types of roles. Therefore, we naturally assume that as someone associated with providing support to others through his roles, of course he wouldn’t be thought of as being in need of it himself.
As news of his passing spread on social media, so did links and numbers to suicide prevention hotlines. The passing of a man synonymous with feel-good comedy has itself become synonymous with discussion about depression and suicide.
At least it’s an opportunity to. As the discussion shifts from how he died to how he lived, the topic of depression and suicide will get pushed to the wayside. It isn’t a hot topic until an event unfortunate enough occurs for it to be again.
Signs of depression are well-known enough but how to treat it or respond to it aren’t as simple. No two people are the same and no two people have the same way of dealing with or responding to it. I have a degree in psychology and I still don’t know how to respond to someone with depression. There’s an overwhelming desire to want to help but even more overwhelming is the helplessness that comes with not knowing how.
I’ve had extended periods of my own when I’ve felt depressed and extremely discouraged about everything and everyone around me. There were times when I came to the realization that suicide was always an option if I ever needed one – only I never got to a point where I ever considered it. What kept me from reaching that point was constant curiosity. No matter how bad I felt things got, I wanted to see what was next. Sometimes that one thought was all I had to hold on to, and sometimes it was comforting.
Thinking back about it now, I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have that. The desire and curiosity to wonder what could be. The idea that something’s gotta give sometime, even if I have to make a change myself. How horrible it must feel to believe that nothing can ever possibly happen to improve whatever the present situation was.
I’ve known people who have made the attempt and fortunately, weren’t successful. These people have been some of the most influential and important people I’ve been lucky enough to know and it’s sobering to think that at one point they felt that way.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of depression is how silent it can be. Offering a sympathetic ear and nothing else can make a world of difference for someone when you think there’s nothing you can do to help.
In my own experience on both ends of the spectrum, people who are depressed don’t want ‘solutions’ or advice on how to feel better. They don’t want to be told to “cheer up” or to hear empty encouragement that “things will be better tomorrow.” They want to be acknowledged. To be affirmed that their feelings are legitimate and to know that there is someone there to simply listen.
My advice is to not give advice. It’s to simply be aware and be there.