Robin Williams Lived

Robin Williams lived a life that brought laughter and joy to millions through his comedy and acting.

He died at his home from suicide on Monday, August 11, 2014, at the age 63. He battled a brain disease that included severe depression. Even with treatment, support from loved ones, and a successful career, mental illness still can be a deadly disease, especially when paired with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

I remember when I first learned that Robin Williams had a mental illness and I was encouraged by his openness. I loved his work in Aladdin, Happy Feet, Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, and his role as Mork from Mork and Mindy. My favorite work of his was stand-up comedy.

He had a brilliant brain. And he had a brain with a disease. He richly blessed us with his life.

May all of us find ways today to reach out and offer hope to one another. We need each other in order to live. No one needs to suffer alone.

There is hope for people who are suicidal. Depression can be treated and symptoms managed. The National Suicide Hotline phone number is 1-800-273-8255.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 90% of the time the primary cause of suicide is an untreated or under-treated mood disorder.

Here are five things we can do to prevent suicide:

1. Break the silence about mental illness. Tell someone you trust if you are feeling depressed and get help.

2. Help spread the word about mental health support resources in your community. If there aren’t any, then get to work and look into starting a support group. Learn mental health first aid.

3. Organize mental health educational events at your school, house of worship, workplace and neighborhood. Become a mental health care advocate.

4. Decrease the stigma and shame of mental illness by celebrating the many gifts of people with brain diseases. Acknowledge that people with mental illness are not defined by their illness.

5. Treat everyone with kindness. We all are fighting battles. Mental Illness is an invisible battle. Be gentle with yourself and others.

Update:
Suicide in particular causes some to pause and wonder about religious teachings that claim that death by suicide is an unforgiveable sin. Just as our scientific understanding of evolution influences the way we interpret the sacred story of creation, now our understandings of the human brain must change the way we interpret suicide.

It is intolerable for me to believe in a God that would punish a person who already suffered unbearable pain because of a brain disease. Instead, I believe in a God of compassion who weeps with those who weep, and mourns with those who mourn. No longer can we say that people who commit suicide go to hell. It is inhumane and defames God’s loving nature.

Now is the time to respond with love.

32 thoughts on “Robin Williams Lived

  1. Reblogged this on Journey Towards Wellness and commented:
    Please read this especially if you are depressed or know someone who is. There is hope. 90% of people who suffer from a mental health disorder significantly improve with Mental health treatment and support.

  2. Sarah, thank you for your kind article and the great work you are doing to bring mental illness out of the shadows. Craig.

  3. I suffered from depression for 10 years. The first year, it was unbearable. I suffered every minute. I tried to get support and got none from my husband. My husband did not want to spend money on a doctor, counseling, or medication. He was not sympathic and said I was weak, and should just snap out of it. I had no other family members to talk to. How I finally got medication was when I was at my gynocologist for a routine exam, I told her about my depression and she prescribed an antipressant. I told my husband the medication was for a gynological problem, and it grudgingly let me take the medication. The pills helped tremendously, I felt better and was able to sleep at night. I told my husband after several months what the pills were for. He wasn’t happy, and said I didn’t need them and over the years has wanted me to stop taking them, but I held my ground.

      1. More people would get help if we stopped using the phrase “feeling depressed.” It is probably misunderstood 99% of the time, because depressed people do not only feel “low.” People won’t seek help for depression if they don’t think they have depression. Appealing to those that are suffering (or “experience real pain”) when they think about something (or everything) would be better. It would also help people seek treatment for other mental illnesses.

    1. Robin Williams death should start a grassroots campaign to refund our Mental Health communities. This should be a wake up call!! They have basically dismantled all of what we as a people created over the first half of the last century!! This started by the way when Reagan took office. We must demand that the health care options should provide for people that have these illnesses. All we do now is put them in prison. Sad state of affairs…..

  4. Thank you, Sarah! Yours is a voice of compassion and you offer much needed information. Chris and I have fond memories from your time at Plymouth Congregational Church.

  5. I remember when I was in Afghanistan and he came to do a show. Being in aviation we got to fly him in and he spent time hanging with us in the hanger. At one point he grabbed one of our weapons and was looking at it, then he says “look out. He’s got a gun” his security force was forcing through us and he says ” not them, me. They’ve all got guns” his security was not happy told him “give that weapon back. And never do that again” I laugh all the time over that.

  6. Thanks for posting…he was a very talented man. RIP Robin, maybe you have found peace at last! Thanks for the laughter and your talents you so graciously shared with us! You will be missed!

  7. Found your post from Facebook. I’m glad that people are talking about it, but I feel that many people are blaming him for taking the easy way out instead of appreciating the pain he must’ve been in.

    I became depressed after having three strokes at age 24. I couldn’t work, I can’t drive, I hate being in noisy places, the sun is painful to me now, I can’t write by hand, and oh, the fatigue is overpowering. I prayed that I could trade my deficits and be paralyzed. I talked to my doctor and she put me on Zoloft, which solved my crying-all-the-time symptoms, but it gave me other problems. Problems that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, to quote my therapist, “Yeah, that sucks. It’s like everything was taken from you during the strokes and now the last thing you’ve got is unattainable.”

    So I researched depression medication and came across Wellbutrin, proposed it to my doctor, and got on it. It helped my fatigue, unlike all the other medicines I’d been on before the third stroke nixed their effects, but it made me puke. It wasn’t until my husband proposed switching some of my meds around that I finally got it to stay down.

    Anyway, that’s a long way to say that it’s not always easy to manage it with medication. The medication prevents all crying, even justified crying, like when my daughter died. (I went off the meds entirely for a couple months after that.) It often causes sexual side effects. I am completely sympathetic for Mr. Williams; the pain caused by the depression rivals that of my conscious TEE, when the doctor stuck a camera down my throat to look at my heart while I was awake. I know how much it hurts. I’ve spent many weeks wishing I could simply drive my car off a cliff.

    The reason I didn’t was my husband, whom I didn’t want to bury in grief. (Also the story I read in high school, something about Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell and how suicide could land you there? I don’t think I believe in a hell, but I let myself believe it to prevent myself from doing anything stupid.) Also, my husband was very proactive about talking about my depression very matter-of-factly, which I immensely appreciated.

    I don’t think there’s any way to identify somebody who’s depressed. I was very good at hiding it from random people; I mean, what could they say? “It’ll get better, don’t worry.” Huh? “I was depressed once, too, but I found that Jesus didn’t want me to be depressed.” Did He want me to have strokes? Did He want my little girl to die? “You’ll recover from the strokes.” Recover HOW, exactly? In the nine years since I had them, I’ve learned to walk again. I’ve learned to comb my hair. But I haven’t learned how to go back to work; I’ve learned how to be okay not working. I haven’t learned how to appreciate the sun; I’ve learned about amber sunglasses in glacier-goggle strength. I haven’t regained my handwriting, but I have discovered how to do almost everything on my computer.

    I think the only thing you can do, then, is to discuss depression. Make it a topic so comfortable that it’s boring to talk about. ASK people how they’re doing and really mean it. TELL people that it’s okay to be depressed. PLEASE.

    Anyway, I eventually had a daughter who made it to full-term and is my pride and joy. It is officially my job to take care of her, and when I don’t want to kill her for asking “Why?” every other word out of her mouth, I thank her for giving me a reason for living.

  8. Good thoughts here…but I’m not exactly sure saying “blessed are the crazy” is really helping here. There’s enough stigma about mental illness and using the word “crazy” is perpetuating this stigma. If anyone thinks I’m wrong here, I’m quite open to hearing from you.

    1. Jennifer, words are tools to connect, taking on various meanings at times, Rather than be concerned about the one word, can you consider the entire article? As much admiration, respect and even love as there is for Robin Williams, do you think that his being “crazy” contributes to the stigma or makes it clear that mental illness is an insidious and dangerous problem that can affect anyone?

  9. I can say that I truly understand what is being said here because I have suffered from depression in addition to anxiety attacks. “Hell” doesn’t begin to describe the feelings. A doctor who was also a friend recognized the symptoms and was quick to put me on an antidepressant. I was referred to a therapist in addition to the medication. Let me say, at this point, depression involves a chemical imbalance that can play havoc. I didn’t ask to be depressed and the well meaning people who said, it will get better or you don’t need medication are deluding themselves. You are so right when you say we need to get mental illness out of the closet. This is not a case of mind over matter. This is an illness that needs to be treated like any other illness. It will not go away if ignored. It will only get worse. Please do not offer the standard clichés that seem to abound when someone is going through a difficult time. Listen with your third ear. Listen with your heart. Encourage that person to seek help. I was lucky that people around me picked up on the cues. I am able to function and have worked as a nurse at a mental facility. I have a good support system that quickly recognizes signs of impending problems. Thank-you for posting this article.

  10. While I can appreciate the thoughts you are trying to convey, I must say I am offended by the title of your blog and also the label of depression as a mental illness. These labels by people who obviously have never been diagnosed by a professional are why so many people choose to go untreated.
    In my case, my depression is biochemical and it’s as much a disease as cancer, arthritis, lupus, etc, etc.
    Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Etc are mental illnesses.

  11. Reblogged this on Rescuing Little L and commented:
    There by the grace of God go I….this could have been me, this is me. By posting this article, I reach out my hand to another person with mental illness, a brain disorder, trauma or depression. Please take my hand and hold on stay with us. If you can, please stay. We can share this together, the dark and the light, eventually circling the world with love and the new definition of who we are. We will circle the world until we are whole and dancing again.

  12. There are reasons for depression. So please tell someone if you are depressed or contact a facility who can help. I went through major depression after my dad died, my mom remarried and the guy I was seeing got injured then met a nurse and married her. Just a lot to take at once. Now I’m known for my joy with most people and it is genuine. The joy of the Lord is my strength. He is my joy, my strength and my salvation. He is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is a very present help in the time of need. Now that I have a relationship with Jesus I am amazed at the breadth, length, depth and height of His love that passes all knowledge. Just saying what worked for me. 🙂

  13. Sarah, thank you for a great post with some very useful advice. I have suffered from depression for many years and I hate what it does to those around me when I am ill. I have my condition under control through a mixture of medication and mindfulness meditation. I have written a few thoughts today which I hope will help at least some people to understand what it means to be depressed. I hope you don’t mind me including a ping back. http://wp.me/p4Fvr2-gw

  14. Did you ever see the film What Dreams May Come? I watched this while an intern teacher at a high school. The class was studying Dante’s Inferno. There’s a scene where the main character, a widowed dad played by Robin Williams, visits the circle of hell reserved for people who committed suicide….Reading your article, I want to go back and see that movie again. As I recall, the scene about suicide was dealt with in a compassionate way. Makes me wonder what he was going through at the time.

  15. I should clarify: in Dante’s imagination there was a circle in hell reserved for people who commit suicide. I don’t believe such a thing really exists, and we certainly were not teaching 10th graders that such a thing exists. I’d like to say that most Christians don’t believe in this centuries-old literary vision of hell (though I don’t presume to speak for “most Christians”).

  16. Reblogged this on The Netherworld and commented:
    People still really, really, really do not understand those with mental illness. They think one can simply think oneself out of depression or anxiety, that one can simply will oneself to “stop being so sensitive.”
    People who live with mental illness are criticized for taking steps to protect themselves. We are admonished to just be like those who are neuro-normative.
    The average person is frightened by anything different and, rather than seeking to understand the person with the difference, they seek to alter or eradicate them. Then they wonder why so many individuals with mental illness present as angry and defensive.
    It is sad that Robin Williams was so despondent that he chose to end his life. Hopefully his suffering will not be in vain and will serve to educate others.
    Team Netherworld has a blog devoted to living with mental illness. It is called Crazy Town in Looney Land. It can be found here:
    http://crazytowninlooneyland.blogspot.com

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