O Captain, my Captain! – Removing the Stigma of Depression

As the Jesus-loving, woman-empowering, body positive, socially conservative, do-it-yourself, homemaking, wife that I am, it is a very rare occurrence that our President says something that I can wholeheartedly get behind.

But that’s what happened when I saw the White House press release regarding the passing of Robin Williams on Monday night:

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 9.46.09 PM

As the language oriented person that I am, I appreciated the POTUS’ references to some of Williams’ most beloved characters – Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning Vietnam”, Patch Adams, Genie in “Aladdin”, Mrs. Doubtfire, Tom Dobbs in “Man of the Year,” Philip Brainard in “Flubber,” and Peter Pan in “Hook.”

I found myself surprisingly upset by the news of Robin Willams’ passing. Usually, the lives and deaths of the rich and famous do nothing to my emotional stability or my outlook on life, but when I saw the news I couldn’t help but curl up and cry.dead-poets-society

I felt like I had just lost a member of my own family – like a favorite uncle. Even though Williams was a mega-star, I felt like I knew him personally after inviting him into my home and heart so many times. He made me laugh. He made me cry.

I found out about his passing seven minutes after the first report was released. Without thinking, I immediately got on Twitter and watched as my trends began to reflect the news. At one point all but one of the trends listed referenced Robin Williams- totaling over 1 million tweets a minute.

What an amazing outpouring of love and admiration! I was astounded at just how many people loved the man and his work. He was truly, truly loved.

Which begs the question: If he had known how much the world really loved and supported him, would he still have committed suicide?

We’ll never know the answer to that question and there is no time in this life for “what ifs” and “if only’s.”

What we do know is is that Robin Williams had been battling depression for years and depression is a very real and terrifying condition. As Katie Hurley from the Huffington Post says it:

“Suicide is a decision made out of desperation, hopelessness, isolation and loneliness. The black hole that is clinical depression is all-consuming. Feeling like a burden to loved ones, feeling like there is no way out, feeling trapped and feeling isolated are all common among people who suffer from depression…soul-crushing depression that envelops them leaves them feeling like there is no alternative. Like the only way to get out is to opt out. And that is a devastating thought to endure.”

Depression is incredibly common, and most people will experience at least one depressive episode at least once in their life according to the National Institute of Mental Health. However, not everyone experiences depression the same way and there are many signs and symptoms including but not limited to:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

One sad day or even a couple sad days does not mean you have depression. We all have those days, but if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms for any length of time, do not be afraid to talk to someone – preferably a doctor in addition to someone you trust. Remember that suicidal thoughts are not normal. You or someone you love begins having suicidal thoughts, please seek help.

If it is someone you love that is confiding in you remember the following according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Be sensitive – they obviously trust you and want to talk, so do not shut them down.
  • Be alert – look for warning signs such as: talking about death/dying, giving away possessions, buying a gun, increased risk taking behavior, withdrawing from social contact, etc.
  • Be direct – ask specific questions about how they think they’ll commit suicide. You want to find out if they’re in danger of acting on their thoughts.
    • e.g. They say they’re going to shoot themselves – do they have access to a gun?
      • How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
      • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
      • Are you thinking about dying?
      • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
      • Are you thinking about suicide?
      • Have you thought about how you would do it?
      • Do you know when you would do it?
      • Do you have the means to do it?

Important: if you suspect that someone is in danger of committing suicide:

  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself.
  • Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
  • Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on.

Robin Williams death is a tragedy and his passing as left a genie shaped hole in all of our lives, yet in his death I hope that we as a society will be able to move forward with reshaping our ideas and stigmas surrounding depression, mental illness, and suicide. We are in no position to judge a person for how they view their lives or their actions. As Ms. Hurley asserts,

“Suicide is not selfish…Until you’ve stared down that level of depression, until you’ve lost your soul to a sea of emptiness and darkness… you don’t get to make those judgments. You might not understand it, and you are certainly entitled to your own feelings, but making those judgments and spreading that kind of negativity won’t help the next person. In fact, it will only hurt others.”

In Dead Poets Society, Williams plays an English teacher at a strict all-boys prep school where he inspires boys to become freethinkers. He encourages them to stand on their desks so as to remind them that they must constantly view life from a different perspective. (view it here)

We must stand on our metaphorical desks and view his passing as an opportunity to change an aspect of our society that we are unhappy with.

So let’s move on from pointing fingers and blaming the person who took their own life, let’s work together to remove the stigma of depression and let everyone know that they are loved in spite of their illness, that they are no less of an amazing human being fraught with potential, that they are unique and have something incredible to offer the human race.

 We are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be? -Robin Williams as  John Keating

What will your verse be?

Stay smiling, happy looks great on you.

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One thought on “O Captain, my Captain! – Removing the Stigma of Depression

  1. Pingback: O Captain, my Captain! - Removing the Stigma of Depression | Tinseltown Times

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