The death of Robin Williams was met with shock and universal acclaim for one of our time’s most beloved performers. About 22 veterans take their lives each day in this country, a majority of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Many try to conjure up reasons why Williams took his own life. We are aware of the conditions military veterans face after their return from war zones. We can never know the heart and mind of another person, we can only see the surface and come up with our own theories.
What is known is that Williams, who was 63, was suffering from depression. Was his depression caused by the onset of Parkinson’s disease? Money problems? Growing older in an industry that values youth? In the end it doesn’t matter; the comedian deemed death a solution to his problems.
Depession is a form of mental illness. We speak not of the once-in-a-while blues everyone gets, but of clinical depression that can be debilitating and treated with medications.
An estimated 10 percent of adults suffer from depression. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, authorized by Congress in 1998, recommends that health-care providers screen adults for depression. It also recommends an approach that involves the collaboration of primary care providers, mental health specialists and other providers to improve disease management for adults with major depression.
Current depression (symptoms for at least the previous two weeks) was determined based on responses to the Patient Health Questionnaire, which covers eight of the nine criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, for diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
A person is considered to have major depression if, for “more than half the days,” they reported meeting at least five of the eight criteria, including at least one of the following: little interest or pleasure in doing things, or, feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.
The other criteria are: trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or sleeping too much, feeling tired or having little energy, poor appetite or overeating, feeling bad about themselves or that they were a failure or let theselves or their family down, trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television, and moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed…or the opposite: being so fidgety or restless that you were moving around a lot more than usual.
There are many causes of depression such as medical issues, financial situation, relationship issues, job loss or unemployment, and on and on. The outward clinical symptoms, as listed above, should be a red flag for the friends and families of those exhibiting them.
People should be cognizant of the long-term symptons of depression in their loved ones. In our society, mental illness carries a stigma. Depression takes center stage when it results in the death of a well-known person like Williams. The country talks about depression or mental illness for a few days and then moves on to the next news item.
Dr. Jean Kim wrote in The Daily Best: “Too often, people are quick to stigmatize depression and other mental illnesses as forms of moral weakness or lack of willpower, especially in individualistic America.”
Robin Williams’ death should be the final push that opens wide the door to discussion about mental health and depression. It may be uncomfortable for some to have such a public dialogue about something that is private and personal, but the alternative can be devastating. Parents, siblings, adult children, teachers, coaches and leaders of any kind should be given the message that inquiring about a person’s mental health is not an invasion of privacy but a true concern for their well-being.
We lose more than 20 veterans each day and we’ve lost Robin Williams to depression and suicide. This isn’t a government issue or a pharma issue, it is an issue for all of us, to do what we can to help those we care for that may be suffering from mental health issues. It’s past the time to take discussion and treatment for depression and health illness issues of the closest and bring it out into the open.—LAZ