The Death of Robin Williams Teaches Us Who We Really Are

Hollywood news, whether it’s good or bad, often has little impact on how people feel. The news about the loss of Robin Williams was different.

Many of us connected with Robin. He made us laugh, he entertained us in his movies, and his wit and unorthodox way of looking at uncomfortable topics made us think.

Even in death, he makes us aware of something we seldom think about—mental illness, addiction, and depression.

An overwhelming number of comments seen on the web or heard from others in conversation have been, “If only he had asked for help.” I would have done what I could. You would have too, even though we don’t really know what that would have been (unless you’re a trained mental health counselor). We would have been a friend. We would have listened. We have showed Robin that we cared about him as a fellow human being.

The overarching lesson for me is that we have the opportunity to reach out to others experiencing addiction and depression on a regular basis, yet we don’t. Why?

It’s because of our values associated with these diseases—yes, diseases. We’re not talking about “conditions” or “choices. Addicts have altered brain chemistry that makes them crave the substance of their addiction. All they can do is fight it one day at a time and usually they need professional help and support.

Depression is something we all experience from time to time. But those who are clinically depressed deal with it constantly. Again, there is an altered neurochemistry in the brain. Sometimes a critical chemical, such as a neurotransmitter or a hormone is deficient. The point is that someone with clinical depression can’t just snap out of it any more than someone with diabetes can just snap out of it.

Normal humans tend to gravitate towards happy, normal people. The personal development gurus tell us that we must “choose to be happy.” That might be true for a normal person, but it’s just not possible for someone suffering with clinical depression. They choose to not be depressed, but their physiology prevents it from happening.

How does society normally treat people who are suffering from depression? We ignore them, or at least we avoid them. Part of the reason is because being around them feels like a downer. The other reason is that we’re not mental health experts—we don’t know what to do.

But when it came to Robin Williams, we would have tried to help him; we would have done what we could.  Even if all we could have done was to lend an ear and made sure he got to professionals who could have helped him, we would have done it. We would not have abandoned him or expected him to “snap out of it.”

When we meet someone who seems depressed, let’s not judge. Let’s try to be a friend instead and see if there is anything we can do to help. Although we all felt like we knew Robin, the vast majority of us never met him. In other words, we expressed an interest in helping a stranger who we valued.

We must value all human beings. Let’s look out for those who can’t always look out for themselves. We would have done it for Robin Williams, and Robin would have wanted us to do it for others too.