The tragic death of Robin Williams has sparked a huge conversation about mental health. Specifically depression as many sources say that he had been struggling with severe depression throughout the last few months. Many people find it hard to comprehend how someone who had such a gift to entertain people, cared so much about every person he met and just had "everything" he could ever want could be fighting such an intense internal battle. How could he hide it from the world? I'm sure his close friends and family knew but the rest of the world? His fans? How could he hide something like that so well?
Well, clearly I did not know Robin Williams but, as someone who has struggled with depression, probably throughout more of my life than I ever realized at the time, I get it. I understand why you hide it from the world. I understand the inner struggle.
If you've never experienced depression, it's difficult to describe what it feels like. And it's not the same for everyone. For me, there were several things that happened. Nothing made me happy anymore. I could put on a fake smile with the best of anyone. Although the people who knew me best could see right through it. I could feel myself being short with people I love. I hid in my house when I didn't have to be at work. I distanced myself from my friends. I didn't feel like I brought any value to any relationship in my life. It felt like there was this big cloud hanging over my head that never went away. It weighed me down like you wouldn't believe. And, yet, I wasn't willing to admit that something was wrong. I was embarrassed.
After all, I work in a field that deals with mental health. How could anything like this happen to me? Because I'm human. I think there is a genetic component to it in one way or another. And, frankly, life hasn't always been real nice to me. So, as I became more willing to admit that there was a problem, I was able to work my way through a lot of the feelings and emotions I had kept locked inside my head for so long. The things that controlled me for years no longer had power anymore. What a freeing feeling.
I work with teenagers every day. And, in the ten years I've been in my field, I've seen my fair share of depressed teenagers. I think the most difficult thing for me is to see how much a stigma is still attached to the word 'depression'. I mean, if a kid has a broken leg, you put a cast on it and it heals. Just because you can't "see" depression doesn't mean the people who suffer from it don't need help. In fact, because you can't see it, those people often need the most help.
If the people who love me hadn't reached out to me, I don't know where I would be today. Depression is extremely treatable. It has to be treated just like any other illness is treated. I think my sister in law said it best - "sometimes, people just need a little help". Finally, I'm not ashamed to admit I am one of those people. It has made a world difference in my life, has allowed me to accomplish so many things, I can't even list them all. Most importantly, it's allowed me to finally figure out what it feels like to be happy.
I don't pretend to understand everyone who struggles with depression. It's different with everyone. But, one thing is for sure, it's a silent disease that needs to lose the stigma attached to it.
If you think someone is struggling, reach out to them. They may push you away. Keep trying. I pushed people away a lot before I finally caved. It's often a defense mechanism. You'll make a difference in more ways than you could possibly imagine.
"See the light in others and treat them as if that is all you see"
RIP Robin Williams