Advance View: Williams still reaching out

How does a man who was able to get millions – perhaps billions – of people laughing out loud fall into such a state of despair that he could take his own life?

Robin Williams’s suicide has shocked and perplexed people around the world. He was such a funny guy… and talented… and sought after… and loved.

He had a knack for getting to the heart of human foibles and infirmities, and turning them inside out in such a way that we could all laugh at ourselves with impunity.

He understood his audience – and his audience was practically everybody.

His comedy lay in the fact that he truly understood the human condition, and was able to reach into our dark corners and draw us out into the light. And perhaps that’s the answer to the question we posed at the outset: he understood too well what lay in our darkest corners, because he often lived in those dark corners himself.

Williams suffered from bouts of deep depression, and it’s no surprise that he was going through one of those episodes at the time of his death.

And once again, he may be pulling us out of our dark corner – this time, unfortunately, his service comes without any hint of humour.

Perhaps the great comedian, through the massive grief that his passing has incurred across the globe, will wake us up to the fact – not an opinion, not a speculation, not a suggestion – that depression is a disease, not a choice to feel miserable, and certainly not a mood that you just need to “snap out of.” Without treatment, it is too often a fatal condition – a terminal illness.

Some depression can be cured, like a bacterial infection, but more often it requires ongoing management, like diabetes.

The first step to treatment is to reach out and speak to someone.

And the second step is for those of us lucky enough to be healthy today to reach back, and just try to understand.

– B.G.

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