The news that actor and comedian Robin Williams had died as a result of a suspected suicide broke on Tuesday morning, shocking the world. How could a man, only 63, who built a career on laughs be so sad that he’d want to to take his own life?
“A tragic reminder that the conversation about mental health CANNOT stop. Money, fame, artistic freedom- none of it is a barrier,” tweeted Girls writer and star Lena Dunham.
Robin’s publicist, Mara Buxbaum, told media that he had been battling severe depression of late.
In reaction to the news, a CNN Assignment Editor Stephanie Gallman wrote a column about her own diagnosis with depression and how she had battled to accept that it wasn’t something she could cure by choosing happiness or Hula-Hooping in Walmart (which she does every time she goes to Walmart, apparently).
Locally and across the world, individuals are fighting their demons with depression and while it shouldn’t take a famous person to shine a spotlight on this, I think we can all agree that Robin’s death does show that even when you do what you love, even when you are internationally famous for being a happy, funny guy and even with an abundance of money and resources, the war may not be won.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), increased day-to-day stress is impacting depression rates in South Africa where more men are more at risk of suicide in South Africa than women. The article showed that in 2010, 673 men were admitted with depression to the Akeso Kenilworth Clinic in Cape Town and the Akeso Crescent Clinic in Johannesburg.
However, for women depression is also a huge issue. Who can forget Eat, Pray, Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of her experience in the book:
“When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.”
CNN’s Stephanie writes:
“Admitting I suffer from depression and anxiety has, at times, made me feel weak — like I’m admitting defeat. I am hard on myself for no reason. I’m pissed that despite having every reason to be happy, sometimes I’m not.”
Depression is not an easy disease to admit to having nor is it an easy disease to manage. Sufferers will always be faced with the ignorant who can’t understand why they can’t just ‘snap out of it’. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and others, to remove the taboo of the D-word and embrace the fact that the depressed need love, acceptance and care. So that they too can laugh again.
Robin’s daughter, Zelda Williams has put it beautifully by quoting Antoine De Saint-Exupery:
“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them … In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”
Underneath the quote, she writes: “I love you. I miss you. I’ll try to keep looking up. Z.”
To those who are suffering from depression out there, keep looking up. There is hope.