In the time since I first started blogging, I’ve sat down several times to write about depression – what I believe it is, and what it means to me. I’ve always walked away from the screen, unsure of how to approach such a delicate subject, especially one that so few people, it seems, understand. In light of Robin Williams passing away, and the overwhelming number of reactions to his death though, I’d like to say something.
While I will never know Robin Williams’ personal demons – they are a somehow personal topic, one which I don’t believe anyone has the right to ask about – I’ve dealt with depression personally. It is not a topic that I am now (or I think, ever will be) ready to discuss on here, but while I can’t understand the specifics of Williams’ suffering, I can understand how hard it must have been for him while he was suffering with the disease. It’s the kind of pain that makes getting up some mornings seem impossible, and the thought of continuing to suffer doesn’t seem reasonable at times.
In the past few days since news of Williams’ death spread onto various news outlets, I’ve seen every one of the typical reactions to suicide and depression: heartfelt sympathy for both him and his family, of course; but also, disgust, confusion, and a complete lack of sympathy for something that most of us are thoroughly incapable of understanding. While I can’t address what depression means to everyone, only what it means to me, I do believe there are some myths about the disease that only serve to allow it to harm more people.
Depression (and Happiness) is Willful
This is perhaps one of the most damaging beliefs about such a painful and debilitating disease. For as long as mental illness has been recognized, it has also been seen as something that the person suffering from it can control. Unlike Cancer or AIDS, which we can see the effects of, nobody can see a mental illness such as Depression.
But no matter what the noticeable effects of Depression, it is the result of a chemical imbalance in the person’s brain. Without the help of medication, most mental illness cannot simply be treated. As helpful as things like prayer, meditation, or “smiling in the mirror each morning” may be for a person, they can’t treat the underlying condition. Trust me when I say that a person suffering from Depression (or any mental illness for that matter) is not simply lazy or refusing to see reason when you suggest they find an inspirational phrase to repeat to themselves each morning.
Depression is Attention-Seeking
There are far better ways than isolation and seemingly-perpetual sadness to garner attention (and Robin Williams, of all people, already had that attention).
Every time another life is lost to suicide, there is an overwhelming cry of “why didn’t they just ask for help?” But when a person does, they are told that they simply are having a few bad days and need to stop looking for attention. It makes it impossible for a person suffering to know how they should handle the situation, especially when added to the fact that most of the people in their life probably don’t fully understand what they are dealing with.
While you can’t ever truly understand what another person is dealing with unless you have been there yourself, it’s helpful to understand that their feelings are just as real as yours are.
Suicide is Selfish
It may be hard to understand if you’ve never personally dealt with depression, but at many points, it doesn’t seem like there’s a way out. For Robin Williams – and for many others who have found themselves in the same place – that darkness lasted long enough that suicide felt like the only way out. The only way to end the pain they’d been suffering with for so long. It’s cruel to suggest that a person in that helpless of a situation should sacrifice themselves in order to save those in their life from grief.