Robin Williams' loved ones will now suffer a lifetime of guilt.
After actor-comedian Robin Williams killed himself this week, media accounts struggled to explain the possible reasons for his suicide, mostly getting it wrong: He had money problems. His career was floundering. He had survivor's guilt. His drug and alcohol addictions caught up with him. And then, as if there were a causal link: He was depressed.
Michael Levine, a publicist who knew him for 30 years, got it right when he talked about how Williams suffered in silence: "Very few people in this world reach the level of fame Robin Williams did and could understand the type of depression he dealt with. There tends to be a lack of compassion - 'So what, you’re famous' - and it’s hard for people to then empathize. People like Robin often feel like they have to completely isolate themselves from the fishbowl they live in, and are so isolated they are afraid to ask for help."
But it's not just "famous people in the fishbowl" who end up suffering in silence because they feel a lack of compassion around them. Ask anyone who suffers from clinical depression or other forms of profound mental illness how often they have heard some variation of, "Why can't you just shake it off and get on with your life?"
Because they can't, that's why, any more than people with diabetes or leukemia can shake it off. There might be triggers that invite depression in - such as money or career worries -once it settles in for the long haul as it did in Williams, it is its own beast, independent of any environmental factors. It is an organic disease that alters the brain's chemistry, and combating it is a long, painful process of therapy, medication and support and understanding from loved ones.
Sometimes the battle is lost, but the pain doesn't end there. Williams destroyed more than one life this week. His friends and family will be tormented with guilt the rest of their lives over not seeing the depth of his despair and believing they could have done more.
Robin Williams seemed dedicated to creating a sense of joy in others. Though and with his despair, he made us laugh. Let his death make us think and then act. If someone in your life is troubled, reach out.