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August 12th, 2014

R.I.P. Robin Williams

Posted on 2014.08.12 at 12:47
Like many people, I found myself in utter disbelief yesterday when I randomly found out about the death of Robin Williams. I have been a fan of his since “Mork” first appeared on Happy Days (how many of you remember that?). And as the years turned into decades, we all saw how much that comic nut could stretch himself into a serious actor as well as a comic genius. But through it all, he had demons to battle. And thus, I am putting virtual pen to paper to talk about an uncomfortable subject – mental illness.

For some reason, mental illness carries a horrible stigma. For much of history, mental illness just wasn’t understood (and in lots of ways, it still isn’t!) For a long time, mental illness was viewed as a type of possession. While it would be easy to dismiss that as a Dark Age misunderstanding, the fact is it was still the case as recently as the 1950’s! Not knowing how to deal with people with severe mental illness, the solution used to be to lock them away in a sanitarium where most people were not as much treated as they were incarcerated. And because of the horrors revealed from that treatment, the pendulum swung the other way to the point where on a daily basis I pass by people on the street screaming at the voices that they think are oh-so-real.

Because it is so understood, this leads to a lot of fear. Many people are afraid of the mentally ill. Heck, how can we not be? We read about disturbed teens who shoot random people in schools or movie theaters. We read about people who, in the name of some religion, go in a killing spree. Or we have various serial killers led to violence because of the voices. And as a result, people tend to develop a severe fear of all forms of mental illness, which is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The fact is, mental illness exists in many different forms and more people suffer from it in one capacity or another than most would believe. Mania, depression, hysteria, paranoia, co-occurring disorders, etc., etc., etc… the list can go on and on. And I really wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are more people out there with some form of mental illness than there are people completely and totally clear of any form of it.

Mental illness is nothing to simply dismiss or ignore. Most are treatable to some capacity or another through therapy and/or medication. But the worst thing in the world is to ignore it. Some people try to hide their inner demons and push them down or push them away until the pressure becomes simply unbearable. And that is what leads some people to the extreme that we all experienced yesterday.

Mr. Williams – you made so many laugh. And sadly, you suffered personal sadness and hurt – enough so that you saw no other alternative than to end the pain. And the world is a sadder place for it.

Please help fight the stigma. Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is common. It is often treatable. And it should NOT be ignored.

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