Every time I am informed of the death of someone close to me, my immediate reaction is one of denial.
“No, you’re wrong. It can’t be. Who did you hear that from?”
Then come the tears.
This is the reaction I had last evening when ABC News interrupted “Jeopardy” to let the world know that Robin Williams had died. The difference here is that, like just about everyone else, I didn’t know Robin Williams. I’d never even met him. I was simply a fan. Still, a connection had formed over decades of enjoying his work and listening to his candid interviews. And judging from news reports that have since followed, my reaction is in keeping with that of millions of other fans.
There are Hollywood celebrities. And there are Hollywood icons. Without a doubt, Robin Williams falls into the latter category, as is evidenced by the fact that his death has relegated the Israel-Gaza, ISIS, Ebola, and police brutality stories to crawlers along the bottom of our TV screens.
For me, the real shocker was his cause of death. He’d always been open about his battles with substance dependence and depression. But his public persona and activity seemed to indicate he was on top of things and handling his emotional challenges well.
How could someone as funny and as loved as Robin Williams take his own life!
Depression is indeed a killer disease, and it is at epidemic proportions. According the Centers for Disease Control, about nine percent of American adults are depressed, and about three percent of adults have major depressive disorder, a long-lasting and severe form of depression. The CDC further states major depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44.
And according to the World Health Organization, five percent of the global population suffers from depression.
Those who have never suffered from this disease or have never loved someone afflicted with depression have little understanding of the ailment. It goes well beyond being sad or feeling blue. Depression is debilitating. It is unbearable. Its cause may never be known to the sufferer. And unlike with most other diseases, victims of severe depression often have trouble envisioning an end to their suffering.
Yes, I speak from experience.
And, as apparently is the case with Robin Williams, those who have recovered from a depression too often suffer relapses.
The rise in depression is evidenced by the abundance of ads for anti-depressant drugs, and now even supplemental drugs to boost the effectiveness of anti-depressants.
Drugs do help. But they are not a cure. Just as insulin keeps a diabetic alive but is not a cure, anti-depressant drugs are not cures. They are life support.
In a world where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to cope, more resources have to be allocated to depressive disorder research. And more resources must be designated to programs that educate and encourage sufferers to seek help.
The suicide of a high-profile icon such as Robin Williams certainly calls attention to the need for these additional resources. But such attention is usually fleeting. It’s up to the public to keep Congress, the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health focused on sustained funding for research, treatment and education related to depression (see www.nami.org for ways to get involved).
It is an understatement to say that Robin Williams will be missed. At age 63, he still had decades’ of unfinished stories within him…stories we will never experience.
If you did not get a chance to see his recent return to series television on “The Crazy Ones,” I highly recommend that you check out the show at CBS’s web site (I hope they’re still streaming full episodes). It was appointment TV for me and my wife. The situations were unique, the writing spectacular, the cast well-chosen and the performances magnificent. It was obvious that Robin Williams brought out something extra in this already-talented cast (make sure you watch the outtakes at the end of each episode).
What is even more evident now is that this short-lived series very much emulated part of his life.
I do hope you are at peace, Robin Williams. Your shoes will not readily be filled.