Saturday, 16 August 2014

My contribution to the Robin Williams debate

Everyone is talking about Robin Williams at the moment, the talented funny man committed suicide this week, shocking the nation and prompting widely differing views from grief, surprise and anger.

In the UK more than 5000 people committed suicide in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Most deaths go unreported until a celebrity dies and then the manner of their death becomes a spotlight in the media and gives rise to speculation and commentary by the public. We are always saddened by the death of a celebrity but all the deaths that occur daily go largely unnoticed except by those that are connected to the deceased.

Generally when a celebrity dies I express sadness but then get on with my day, especially if that celebrity died from old age. I may seem heartless but when an octogenarian musician that hasn’t had any part of the music scene for the last two decades passes away, I don’t feel that it’s a huge loss to the music industry. Everyone dies eventually.

When a celebrity in their prime of life dies suddenly, I am a bit more saddened by it, Kirsty McColl, Martin Gilks, Rik Mayal. But still, I don’t mourn for long because I didn’t know them, never met them and their music and films are still there. It’s not like when someone close to you dies and leaves your life and that’s it, you have photos, memories, maybe home videos. But the reason you loved them, their sense of humour, their company has gone. That’s devastating. And that is devastating for the loved ones of the celebrity, but for the rest of us, only knowing their public persona, their music, or their fictional characters, their death has no more impact on our life than any other stranger’s death.

The death of Robin Williams however has had a huge global impact because of the nature of his death. Had he died naturally from old age or a heart attack, he would be mourned and we’d move on as with any other celebrity death. But his suicide has shocked the world. That this seemingly happy, funny man could be depressed is at odds with the majority of people’s understanding of depression and there are tributes being made to show how highly thought of he was, even if he didn’t feel it himself. On the other hand there are those calling him selfish and cowardly.

I have worked with a lot of people battling with their mental health and I’ve seen how destructive it can be, how difficult it is for normally confident happy people to be rendered incapable of leaving the house, or even getting out of bed. Depression is a serious condition but it’s a word used flippantly by the vast majority. It is difficult for people who have never suffered depression to understand, it’s easy for us to think ‘oh pull yourself together’ or ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ The thing with depression is that it’s an illness that can strike, no matter how successful your life might appear to be.

If anything good can come out of Robin Williams’ suicide, it must be that it throws a spotlight on mental health and has prompted debate, because for every person that dismisses it as a selfish cowardly act, there are now more people openly talking about this illness, because unless you’ve experienced it or been in anyway affected by it, you can’t possibly judge someone for their actions when suffering the pain of clinical depression.

It’s important that those of us who are suffering from depression, panic attacks or stress, get help. And those of us that haven’t experienced any mental health episodes, need to be more understanding and open to the possibility that a friend or family member, who usually seems so happy and confident may be too scared to ask for help for fear of ridicule or insensitivity from those closest to them.

But ultimately we all need to know that there are people out the who can help us. Whether it’s a phone call to the Samaritans or finding a local mental health support group. Depression and anxiety can hit anyone at any time and it’s crucial that if you find yourself affected you know that you are not alone.

Robin Williams, a great comedian and actor, may his soul rest in peace.

My contribution to the Robin Williams debate