When news of Robin Williams’ death surfaced, and shortly thereafter news that it was self-inflicted, we were naturally all quite stunned. It shocked and appalled us to learn that someone with so much talent and energy could possibly be suffering from – gasp – depression.
And after the nation went through our standard week of mourning and opening up and sharing and seeking change, the conversations about depression pretty much dried up. We had a rough week losing a national treasure, but then we had a nice weekend, and anyway, much worse things continued to happen in the world, so it was back to business as usual for us, pretending that depression doesn’t exist.
But we need to keep talking about depression and its place in society. We can let Robin Williams the individual rest, but let’s keep Robin Williams the symbol alive. Let’s keep talking about depression the condition, and not depression the social taboo.
Why Continue the Conversation?
Why? The answer is simple: to move past the stigma, and actually do something useful and lasting in our culture. When depression and bipolar disorder are stigmatized, we force the sufferers into hiding. And when we force people into hiding, bad things happen.
Depression is no one’s fault. It’s a condition, like Type 1 Diabetes or allergies. It ought to be treated, not shunned.
If we get rid of the stigma, we can improve everything from health care to the wage gap to gun laws. We can start preventing school shootings. We can mend relationships that may have been strained.
A Call to Those Suffering From Depression
If you’re suffering from depression, or have suffered from depression at any point in the past, please come out and let everyone know. The more the world sees it, the more normal it will become, and that is the gateway to greater understanding.
A Call to Those NOT Suffering From Depression
Please be open to the idea that anyone around you may be suffering from depression, and you might never know it, because people with depression tend to be really, really good at hiding it. That’s actually part of the problem – it’s such an unspoken terror in our society that people with depression grow up learning how to hide how they feel, and instead of getting better, we all just get worse.
When someone tells you they are suffering, do not judge that person. (And don’t offer advice on how to cheer up.) Just try to understand and stay open, open, open. It’s hard to stay open, but you can do it. You really can. It is possible.
These conversations apply to everything everywhere, I promise. So now that we’re all past the shock of a brilliant comedian ending his own life, and now that we’ve all expressed our initial reactions, let’s do something about it. Like, for real.
What can we do, then? What, exactly?
I don’t know. Something will come up. Just keep talking about it.
To that end, I’ve created a page to list the conversations, posts, articles, etc. that have come out about this since Robin Williams’ death. Some were written long ago and have resurfaced as a result, some were written just in the few days following the news. I’m going to make an effort to keep adding these resources as I come across them, but please, feel free to add your own in the comments on that page.