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.
graphic via shutterstock.com