Robin Williams, 63, the talented and beloved comedian and Oscar-winning actor, apparently took his own life Monday, August 11, 2014 by asphyxiation. From his first television appearance on Happy Days as Mork from Ork, Williams kept America laughing. Whether as a top standup comedian or lovable actor, Williams wormed his way into our hearts. He showed his dramatic side as well, with his role in Dead Poet Society (1989). He won an Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting (1997).
Williams struggled with cocaine and alcohol addiction as well as depression, and even though he had stretches of sobriety, he would occasionally check into rehab. This past July he attended Minnesota's Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center. His spokesperson says his attending rehab was precautionary, and that he was "taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud."
Listening to the news pundits last night, very few were willing to talk about the elephant in the room: that Williams was an addict and had a disease called depression. The stigma of mental illness continues. Many wonder how an Oscar-winning actor who was so loved could be depressed and take his own life. Depression is very, very powerful, and left unchecked, can take control of the brain. I've said it before and it should be repeated again—depression doesn't care how rich, powerful, or successful you are. It is a brain disease, and it can be fatal. Mara Buxbaum, William's publicist, acknowledged Williams had been "battling severe depression" lately.
A person with severe depression cannot just think happy thoughts and feel better, like it never happened. Depression robs the mind of happy thoughts—even memories—and sucks out the hope that there can ever be a better future. The pain can sometimes become unbearable, and in the most severe cases they do the only thing they can to make the pain go away. The saddest thing of all is that depression is treatable.
For those with depression, there is help:
• Seek treatment. Start with your family doctor. Do not let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from getting help.
• Do not live in shame. Depression is not in your head and it doesn't mean you're weak.
• Do not isolate. Unfortunately, this is precisely what the depressed individual wants to do, but it's exactly what not to do. Get support from anywhere you can—family, friends, spiritual leader—anyone you trust.
• See a specialist. There are excellent therapies and antidepressants on the market, and research is making exciting new discoveries in depression treatment frequently.
The world lost a legend today, and he will be sorely missed. Depression has claimed another life, and this one may be one of the hardest to bear. The man who made us laugh until we cried has been silenced forever.
Nanu, Nanu, Mr. Williams.