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Yesterday brought us the shocking news of the death of Robin Williams, most likely the result of suicide.

As much as we should mourn this loss we must see to it that there is something to be learned by it. By all accounts Williams felt he had no real options, no place to go, no ability to speak openly about his problems. He tried but never managed to be comfortable in making the full move.

One of the few remaining stigmas in our society is that of mental illness, including the very serious condition of depression. If a person suffers from a broken leg they get our empathy. If someone develops cancer or some other serious illness we gather around them to offer support. Even if they are a complete stranger we feel a need to offer them help through the difficult times.

We feel this way even if it is partly the patients own fault they suffer from the condition. If they behaved foolishly and fell and broke a bone we laugh with them. If they smoked for years and contracted cancer we still support them. This is not, of course, to suggest they deserved what they got but at the same time in many cases they were not entirely innocent.

Yet if someone suffers from depression or some other mental illness we somehow shy away. There is almost a part of us that somehow feels it is their fault and they should be blamed for what has happened to them.

It is a curious reaction when you consider the fact that there are few circumstances under which a person can cause themselves to suffer from depression. It is almost always the result of an imbalance in brain chemistry that the person has absolutely no control over

The result of this stigma is that the person feels that they have no avenue of relief. They cannot approach their family or friends for fear of being looked down on and as a result they become even more isolated and more desperate.

Far too often then end up feeling there is no other choice than to end the pain.

It is sadly too late for Robin Williams. It is to late for the many who went before him. But it is not too late for those who still suffer around us.

So what can we do ?

We can end this stigma. We can encourage those we love and even those we barely know to feel comfortable in approaching for help. We can keep an eye on them, call them, take them to lunch, do all of those little things that mean so much to a person in pain.

We can also learn of more formal organizations that are able to help. Every community has a suicide hotline, a mental health agency and other groups out there to offer aid.

Find these groups and do what you can to help.

Never let another Robin Williams feel like there is no option.

National Suicide Hotline

Hotlines

graphic via shutterstock.com

PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor
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Copyright 2014 The Moderate Voice
  • Chickenfarmer

    About 30 years ago I was diagnosed with moderate depression. I’ve been open about this to family, friends and coworkers and I have never felt anyone attach any sort of stigma to my condition. Instead, I have been gifted with understanding and support.

    What is lacking is effective medical treatment. Antidepressants work for a period of time but later the body seems to build up a tolerance and they lose effectiveness. There are also side effects. In trying one new medication, I found myself unable to sleep for days. Counseling, the other medical option, is also effective in the short term. You leave the office feeling good and with resolve only to have the dark feeling return in a day or two.

    For me the best treatment has been physical activity, particularly in the out of doors, travel (especially to warm sunny places during the winter), and accomplishing small projects or goals.

    We all wonder how Mr. Williams, such a beloved, funny, and wonderful person could come to a tragic end. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him trying to live up to the expectations that an adoring public placed on him. How many times he must have wondered “I have all this and accomplished so much, why do I still hurt”? Rest in peace Robin.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Nice comment, chickenfarmer. The best to you.

  • Brilliant, Chickenfarmer. Thanks for sharing.

    Physical activity, nutritional excellence, sunshine and short, as well as long term goals are key.

    The long term goals don’t always have to be immediately achievable. But they should be possible. Then, each of us can position ourselves for the pursuit that is the best alternative to Ronin’s.

    “One Second Everyday” Lyle Workman.

    • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

      thank you all for your regard and compassion

      thank you CF for your candid and so important personal witness

  • jdledell

    Robin Williams seemed to struggle with Depression for a long time. Perhaps his manic comedy routines were his way of combating the Depression. However, like many in this situation he turned to self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. Even though it provides no long term benefit, it temporarily blots out brain activity, meaning there is no room for worries or concerns, just an overwhelming desire for the obliviousness of sleep. One way to think of it is short term suicide where there is no longer an outside world until you wake up.

    I know the issue of self medicating with alcohol. Throughout my business career, I was forever entertaining clients and government officials. Lunch, dinner and bar hopping were the order of the day with copious amounts of alcohol. If you ever dealt with Japanese businessmen and officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry it was more or less daylong binge drinking, day after day. This was aggravated by the constant pain I have had in my legs and shoulders from polio and using crutches for decades. Alcohol was also my pain relief.

    As a result, I had a appetite and capacity for alcohol. When I suddenly took early retirement as a result of a new CEO coming in I was suddenly aimless with all the structure of my daily life gone. Now home every day, I continued the daily drinking. After about a week, my wife told me that I was wasting my life sitting around doing nothing. I was stunned but at 52, I had to agree with her. I was still young enough to do something but financially we did not need to work ever again. But I decided I really need to be useful and drinking would interfere whatever I decided to do.

    So we sat down to chart out the future. The obvious thing that appealed to me was joining my wife in teaching piano. That decided the next question was how to stop drinking. Do I go cold turkey, try AA, go to rehab? I was always a heavy smoker and we thought smelling like an ash tray or like a bar would not go well with the parents of our students. I suddenly had a light bulb moment. Whenever I had alcohol, I wanted a cigarette. Whenever I had a cigarette, I wanted alcohol. Thus if I gave up smoking I probably would not want alcohol. So I started chewing nicotine gum and have not had a drop of alcohol since -18 years. Believe me, nicotine gum which I still chew, does not deliver the jolt a cigarette does and as my doc says – better that than the poison of cigarette tar in your lungs.

    I don’t miss alcohol at all, even at the beginning of sobriety. It has been replaced by the joy all these kids bring to me. Their enthusiasm, their growing confidence at mastering difficult music and most of all seeing them once a week for 10 to 12 years as they grow up. I consider myself very lucky not to go down the rat hole of alcohol,drugs and depression like Robin Williams. I thank the gift of music and a wonderful wife that kept me from following Robin’s footsteps.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    @jdledell,

    Fortunately, I have never smoked nor had an appetite for it.

    But, like with you, there were too many opportunities in my military and professional life to “enjoy” alcohol to an excess. Again, fortunately, I did not go “down that rat hole,” Your advice and example are very instructive and appreciated.

    Thank you.

  • Blessings, jdledell,

    Thanks for your perspective. In my work and private life I have seen first hand that it is not uncommon to trade one obsession(s) (booze, smoke, sex, etc), for another, hopefully more constructive.

    Successful testimony is important. There are so many people suffering who want and wait _every day_ to hear about some way // anyway // out.

    I don’t think there is a “The Way”. It seems to vary with the individual and their degree of illness.

    Brilliance, even genius, is not a defense. Gifted are not much better suited to find their way than others. My view is that it takes another intimate human being, a guide, a sage (nothing to do with sex per se). As well, a new passion … and a whole lot of humility.