Image: Melancholy by Marie Constance Charpentier, via Wikimedia Commons
When I heard that Robin Williams committed suicide after suffering from severe depression, I was empathetic. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, something I don’t think people have when they say, “He was selfish,” which is often a running commentary on suicide.
I’m not here to glom on to a high profile celebrity death; I want to speak about depression and to those who are brushing off Williams’ suicide as selfish. Depression, whether it is mild or severe, is no joke and it’s still not taken seriously. Maybe now it will be.
If you’ve never been depressed, and I mean really depressed, not just sad for a couple days, then I’m writing to you. Depression changes the way you think about everything. It’s this thick woolly blanket that wraps you up and isolates you from everyone and everything you know or like. Your thoughts are telling you that you are unworthy of love, happiness, friendship, and you can’t talk to anyone about it because you are a burden. Everyone else is happy, so you don’t want to bring them down with your sadness and despair over “nothing,” when there are real problems in the world like famine, genocide, cancer, climate change. Your feelings are insignificant next to those real problems.
That’s how depression works; your own thoughts betray you. These aren’t the thoughts of a stranger popping in and telling you that you suck. You are telling yourself you suck, and you trust yourself, right?
To the people who will gloss over Robin Williams’ death or any other suicide with “They were selfish,” I hope I am able to help you empathize more. Maybe getting angry is your coping mechanism when tragic events happen. Calling suicide selfish does not help, nor does it deter suicide. If anything, it prevents people from seeking help because they don’t want to be “selfish” since selfishness is frowned upon.
To the people who may be suffering in silence, I want to tell you that there is help out there and you are not a burden. I sought out the help of a therapist after the nothingness and the sadness became too much (and a close friend found success with therapy). Having the ability to speak to someone about the darkness in my own mind, without judgment, has helped immensely.
Medication may be prescribed to you and I’m here to tell you that that’s not a failure either. I initially resisted pharmaceuticals because I thought I was better than that, but a chemical imbalance in your brain is a steep mountain to climb by yourself. I remember my hand shaking the first time I held that pill, I didn’t know what was next and I feared becoming something I wasn’t. But guess what? The medication didn’t turn me into an unfeeling, smiling robot. Instead, I started to see the pros in everything rather than the cons. I felt a little bit lighter and I began to look forward to everyday things instead of dreading them.
I am one of the countless people who grew up watching Robin Williams and enjoying his many talents, and he will always be in my heart. If anything good comes from his tragic death, I hope it is an understanding that depression is not something to laugh about or minimize.
The website PostSecret.com has put together an extensive Wiki for suicide prevention, if you have feelings of hopelessness, despair or think that you don’t matter, please reach out. Hell, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) because you are important and you do matter.