Robin Williams killed himself yesterday.
While the media is focused on the shock and tragedy of the event, and the body of his work to a far lesser extent, and while love and grief and remembrances pour in from all over the world... part of me hopes that maybe, just maybe, this will be a trigger for an essential change in how we view mental illnesses as a society.
Because if someone as rich, famous, and beloved as Robin Williams couldn't get the help he needed for his depression, there's something terribly, drastically wrong.
There was a sadness in him. You could see it in his eyes. I think even before I knew what my depression really was, I could see that sadness.
Roger Ebert once quoted a line in reference to him: "Behind every comedian, there is a sad man who refuses to weep." He went on to marvel at how well Williams could channel that inner sadness into performances of astonishing depth and complexity. Everyone saw loud, manic, feverishly-improving Robin Williams as the real one, but too many people forget that he was often a softer, empathetic figure.
But that sadness in his eyes... I know that sadness. I've struggled with it since I was twelve.
Depression is a monstrous thing. It eats you away inside, even when you should be happy, even when you're joking among trusted friends or family, even when you're a beloved figure that made millions laugh. And it's insidious: you never know who's fighting a battle with it on the inside, screaming in the dark.
It's a sickness, not a weakness. A flaw in brain chemistry. A quirk of neurological development.
And yet the prevailing view is that you can just "get over it". That it's all a matter of unwarranted self-pity that you can overcome if you really try hard enough. That a millionaire celebrity comedian with a loving wife and family couldn't possibly have anything to be truly depressed about.
That's perhaps the most terrifying thing about it: it often attacks you when there's no reason for it. Even when everything's going well, when you should feel on top of the world, when life's a laugh and a smile and a song... you're dying inside. Screaming in the dark.
You feel lonely, even among your loved ones. You feel despair, even on sunny days. You feel pain, with nothing to touch you.
It's a sickness, not a weakness. You can no more "get over it" than you can get over losing a limb.
So why do people think this way? Why is it so hard for Americans to accept a mental illness as just as much a problem as a physical one? In other countries, if you ask for help, you can get it. No questions asked. In ours, we have to jump through the hoops, recite our problems in front of endless blank, uncaring faces, pay absurd amounts of money for the most basic of medicines to help us cope.
It's a travesty. And unless we solve the problem, more people like Robin Williams will die.
They think they're alone, worthless. They think no one cares, that the world won't miss them if they're gone. That depression is something to be hidden away and ashamed of. And society does nothing to prove them wrong.
We are the ones who scream in the dark. Who suffer inside even as we laugh. We are all around you, we are everywhere.
Yesterday, we lost a man who was once considered the funniest person on Earth. Love him or hate him, you couldn't deny his presence and his gifts. His life affected millions. He was beloved.
And yet he couldn't see that in the end. Depression blinded him, isolated him inside himself.
I hope that wherever he is now, he can see how much we loved him, free of his shackles. Free of his sickness.
And I hope and pray that in the light of this tragedy, we can begin to help others like him, who suffer in silence as he did.
Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince. And may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.