Tonight the world mourns the loss of comedic genius Robin Williams of an apparent suicide. Williams suffered, unknown to most of the public, from depression and bipolar disorder. The stresses of this world got to be too much for him. How terribly, terribly sad.
Depression is a real disease. Many people cannot help the fact that they’re afflicted with it. The symptoms of depression can be treated but often the fight lasts for a lifetime. Unfortunately too few do recognize this and because of embarrassment refuse to seek out much needed help and support.
I was one of those folks who refused to seek help. For years I suffered in silence and in pain. I nearly allowed my life to overwhelm me. And I came to a point where I felt I had no choice but to seek out the help I needed. And once I did my doctor put my mind at ease. He explained to me exactly what depression is and how I can successfully treat it. He encouraged me to put certain events in my in perspective and let me know his door was always open if I ever needed someone to confide in and talk to. He also explained to me about the genetic predisposition most folks have toward depression and other mental health problems. He explained that my depression wasn’t my fault and that some people need an extra bit of help in life
The problem is that too many folks don’t take the steps that I did. Too often we have people in our lives who frown upon seeking help and advice for mental issues. For instance as someone who attends church on a regular basis I’ve witnessed many occasions where mental health issues are chalked up to spiritual deficiencies. Many in the church believe the sadness and despair that grips those who suffer from depression can be cured through prayer. And it’s simply not true – prayer can help but medical attention is needed, just as it is when a parishioner suffers from diabetes or cancer. God has provided doctors, counselors and therapists to help soothe His followers and His followers need to take advantage of those who are out there.
As an African-American I’m also keenly aware of the stigma many blacks attach to mental health issues. Often African-Americans will refuse to seek help for their mental health problems and issues. We’re taught to suck it up and just deal with the problems. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves or our families by “airing” dirty laundry, even if we’re just talking to our doctor or a counselor. And as a result too many of us are allowing the stress of mental diseases to eat us up inside.
Mental illness and depression affects all of us. Many, like me once, are suffering in silence, afraid to speak up. In too many cases people are taking their lives because they feel they have no other choice. Each death is a needless loss. Be mindful of those folks, be sensitive to their feelings, never make light of this serious problem. Robin Williams untimely death, along with those of Freddie Prince and Don Cornelius, shows us that this silent disease can strike anyone, that it knows no race, creed, or social status.