Eastern Wake: Opinion

August 15, 2014

Column: Williams struggled with an illness that impacts many

Comedian Robin Williams’ death surprised pretty much everyone. The ferocity of depression would surprise most of us too.

Robin Williams’ death Monday caught many people in this country and, probably around the world, by surprise. I have no personal Robin Williams stories to tell. Never met the guy.

But like many of you, I laughed at his antics on television, beginning with his role as Mork on “Happy Days,” which he later turned into its own show. He got into the movies and delivered a great many memorable roles, which I won’t go into here.

Judging by the tributes and recent Facebook posts many of us had different favorites.

That’s a testimony, I suppose, to the depth and breadth of his work.

What I do know a little bit about, though, is the struggle he faced battling depression. That depression is what ultimately led him to take his own life. He couldn’t have had unmet material needs. He didn’t want for food, shelter or friends.

But in his mind, none of that was worth living for.

Depression is a bear. I’d use a stronger word, but this is a family newspaper. Depression can immobilize a person. It can make them cringe in a corner of the laundry room when the doorbell rings. It can keep them from making close friends. It can make them avoid life’s fun. It can make the tiniest of problems seem absolutely insurmountable. It can keep them from realizing their full potential as a person.

Depression is a dastardly disease because, if you can find a medicine that keeps it under control, your brain has a way of telling you, “Hey, you’re fine. You don’t really need to keep taking that medicine.”

Depression can sometimes overwhelm even the medicine and the person is forced to live with the feelings of inferiority and insecurity.

No amount of support or encouragement from family or caretakers is ever enough.

No matter what they say, those feelings of despair come back. Again. And again. And again.

Imagine being in the ocean as a wave overtakes you. Just as you come up and gasp for air, another wave crashes down upon you. Imagine the cycle repeating itself over and over. You never get a chance to get a full breath of air.

Too often, that never-ending battle is just more than a person can tolerate. That’s when you read sad headlines like the ones last week about Williams. But Williams is different. He’s famous. So his death makes headlines on newspapers everywhere.

Let me tell you this: Similiar stories unfold all over the world every day without making headlines.

And if that thought burdens you consider this: The people who run this state’s government have decided that mental health care doesn’t need all the money that it has used in the past.

The truth is the state’s mental health system is crap because it doesn’t have the resources to help the people who need help.

There’s no telling how many of them will go home tonight, or tomorrow night, or next week and do exactly what Williams did.

You just won’t read about it because – as state lawmakers have decided – those people don’t matter.

What a shame.

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