I don’t think there are many people who weren’t left speechless in shock over Academy award winning actor and comedian Robin Williams’ suicide. What made this celebrity suicide more horrific and unbelievable than others is the fact that it was committed by one of the funniest guys of our time. How could a person whose sole apparent purpose was to make others happy, do such a thing? He was so multi-talented and brilliantly funny that it’s very hard for anyone thinking that he was ever sad, let alone depressed.

Writers around the world rushed to publish articles on how his suicide was the easy way out of his financial problems and substance abuse relapses, and how selfish he must have been to end his life  and subsequently cause so much pain to his family and the people who loved him.

It saddens me that in this day and age where depression affects more than 40 million adults in the US alone, more than 80% of the sufferers are left undiagnosed and without treatment. To add to that, awareness, on its causes and effects, is also very poor. Most of us fail to recognize depression and fully comprehend its implications.

Who gets depressed?

At some point in our lives, most of us will go through a period of some kind of depression. The causes for it are many and vary from person to person. A depressive episode can occur due to stressful life changes, a divorce, losing a loved one, after a serious health diagnosis, getting fired from a job and many other difficult situations. Feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, nervous, anxious and feeling scared are normal reaction to stressful occurrences in our lives that could lead to depression.

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People who suffer from depression could experience insomnia or excessive sleeping, inability to concentrate, lack of energy, significant weight loss or gain and feelings of worthlessness or lowered self value, amongst others. Depression doesn’t distinguish between races, cultures, skin color or financial wealth, which is, mysteriously, a belief shared by many.

“Those who have experienced trauma or are prone to anxiety may be more likely to experience depression than those who have not, and research suggests that some people may be biologically predisposed to depression due to neurochemical abnormalities. A family history of depression can lead to a person’s inheriting or learning these traits” , GoodTherapy.org

Depression is much more than sadness and it did affect Mr Williams to the point where he was conceived the only option was to take his own life.

Myth: People who laugh a lot are the happiest

Laughing is great. It is also good for the soul, amongst its numerous benefits. But are funny people or the ones who laugh a lot necessarily the happiest?  – absolutely not. Sometimes the funniest people are also the saddest.

“Researchers have identified four distinct humor styles: affiliative (friendly banter to strengthen social bonds), self-enhancing (laughing at life’s problems to overcome them), aggressive (laughing at others’ weaknesses) and self-defeating (to a layman, self-deprecating). In the last 10 years, several studies associated the last of these with depression. Raymond Tucker and a team of collaborators from Oklahoma State University, published last year:

Robin Williams4The self-defeating humor style appears to be particularly pernicious, as it relates to increased susceptibility for depression, depressive symptoms, feelings of anxiety, and neuroticism. Research also demonstrates that this humor style moderates the relationship between interpersonal predictors of suicide and suicidal thinking. Increased levels of shyness and loneliness, and decreased self-esteem, and social intimacy have also been related to increased self-defeating humor.

Although this humor style may be motivated by a desire to facilitate social bonds, it may actually alienate oneself from others, resulting in feelings of loneliness and depression.Bloomberg.com

Although Robin Williams’ humor was versatile, there was always a sense  of self-deprecation throughout most of his interviews and comedy shows. In his own words: “Being a functioning alcoholic is kind of like being a paraplegic lap dancer — you can do it, just not as well as the others, really”, and “”Yeah, anything that makes you paranoid and impotent, give me more of that.” He, indeed, talked a lot about his struggles with alcohol and cocaine addiction. He, however, hid his heavy depression from the public despite rumors of him having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for years.

Robin Williams3People around the world are left bewildered and confused, as they are often left to wonder why, with all the money that Mr Williams was supposedly worth, he couldn’t he get all the necessary treatment he needed. Although we will never know what he did to get help, one thing is for sure: many who suffer from depression, and even those closest to them are not aware of the damaging and often lethal consequences of severe depression. Some people feel like its just a temporary phase that they will go through if they try hard enough or a short term problem that can alleviated with alcohol.

University of Illinois psychologist Mikhail Lyubansky wrote: “Humor can be used as a mask that shields both the wearer and those around him, from the pain underneath.” This statement couldn’t be any closer to the reality of Mr Williams that many of this closest friends recall.

I don’t know anything about the personal life of Robin Williams and neither do any of us; he was a private person who despite having touched and influenced the lives of many, he only let a few in. Depression is real and people who suffer from it should be able to feel comfortable in coming out and seeking  help. Depression should not be a stigma in today’s society and there should be enough advice and treatment available.

Noah Rubinstein, CEO of GoodTherapy.org writes in one of his articles: “Indeed, we all struggle, we all suffer in this life; many do it alone. The anxiety can be so great that we become paralyzed by fear, the depression so heavy that we can’t get out of bed in the morning. The self-criticism so intense, we come to hate ourselves. The anger so great that we want to destroy and destruct everything in our path. The hopelessness so thick that we see no option other than taking our own life.

Once you’ve fallen into that abyss, it’s hard to climb out. But you can. Everyone is capable of healing, untangling, and returning to the calm, compassionate, confident being they were born equipped to be. If you commit yourself and keep asking for help, help will come your way.”

Indeed, depression IS treatable. It is not selfish and suicide caused by depression isn’t either. No one should have to go through it alone. Noone should reach  the point where suicide is the only way out.

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There is an old saying that goes something along the lines of “it’s no secret that a liar won’t believe anyone else” – the fiery experts who came out and condemned Robin Williams’ suicide should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Suicide is always tragedy, the loss of human life is not something to be judged or used to tell sob stories.

Your response to this suicide will be the measure that your children, and those under your influence, will use to judge the future. If you don’t take this as a chance to preach understanding and love, compassion and helping others, then perhaps you need to seek therapy and support as much as Robin Williams did.

But only in their dreams can men be truly free It was always thus and always thus will be”.   – Robin Williams

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Psychologist, world citizen, mother - Effie is one half of the alwaysladies.com founding pair. She can bring to life any party with either a smile, or a strong opinion. If like us you can't get enough of Effie, visit her blog at www.thethinkingmomblog.com

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