current affairs

Reflections on Robin Williams and mental health

I have always said that comedians are gods among men.

I have always said that comedians are gods among men. They may not possess Zeus-like strength, or the ability to hurl thunderbolts at their enemies or trolls, and they may not be able to fly or shoot arrows of love into the hearts of mortals, but what they can do is bring light into people’s lives on a massive scale.

This morning, I woke to find that acting and comedy legend Robin Williams had passed away. I, perhaps naively, assumed he had died from an age-related illness or possibly a heart condition.

That was not the case.

Robin Williams had passed away due to suspected suicide. He had, apparently, taken his own life.

Too good to be true

Like the millions of others who have heard this heart breaking news this morning, I searched for reason. Why? Why had such a beloved and colourful figure killed himself?

It took about three seconds of research for the word to pop up, ‘depression.’ Robin Williams, like so many public figures who we forget are real human beings, had been battling severe depression for a long time—too long. Too much.

It saddened me to the core and really struck me. So soon after the accidental suicide of Peaches Geldof, it was a once again harrowing reminder that no matter how well we think we know the famous through their interviews and television appearances and writing and films, we never know what is going on behind closed doors. We can never truly know them or put ourselves in their place.

Something else other than sadness crept into my heart after reading the tributes to the actor, particularly that from one of his three children, his daughter Zelda.

She posted on Twitter a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince,’ which read: ‘You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… You – only you will have stars that can laugh.’

I felt so deeply sad for this girl, only four years older than me and feeling unimaginable pain at the sudden loss of her father.

But not only sympathy was present after reading these words, laden with meaning and grief and love. A flash of anger shot across me. Not at Robin, never at Robin, but at what had taken him, at depression. At how indescribably unfair that the inescapable, ruthless, invisible demon that is mental illness had taken away such a special person, someone who has brought joy into the lives of literally millions of people.

Speak up

How cruel it is that such a brilliant mind was so plagued by a monstrous force that so many refuse to acknowledge, that so many brand as false or attention-seeking.  Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD—they are not simple as sadness, or jitters, or eating too much or not enough, or being ‘quirky.’

They are evils which cast fear and doubt and crushing negativity over the hearts and minds of countless people around the world. They are invisible to the naked eye but could not be more obvious to those who have to fight them on a daily basis.

Robin Williams’ death is an example of how indiscriminate mental illness can be. Mental illness does not care if you are famous. It does not care if you are married with children. It does not care if you are successful and talented, it does not care how old you are. It does not care if you have no real problems in ‘reality.’ It exists, and it can happen to anybody, regardless of circumstance.

Robin brought joy, laughter, light and inspiration to the world in life, and in death, I hope that he finds peace, and that this brings much-needed attention to the issues of mental health. Even in death, he remains an inspiration as we fondly remember his wonderful soul, undeniable talent and radiant positivity.

Do not dwell on the circumstances behind his death, but use them to continue to brighten the world as he did. If you are suffering, there is help all around you – personal or professional. Do not let yourself be beaten. If you know someone who is suffering, help them.

Reach out and be the light that will forever be preserved in our collective memory of a truly remarkable man.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.