On Robin Williams and depression

14 Aug 2014

Aside from the jubilant feeling many teenagers will be experiencing on results day, this week has been one that has struck a melancholy chord with many. Robin Williams, a man who had such a quick wit and who brought joy to millions, committed suicide after suffering from depression. It’s hard to imagine Robin Williams was ever depressed from watching his films and his comedy, and indeed the fact I grew up watching many of his films made this week all the more morose.


However, it’s opened my eyes to the way we treat depression – and it’s not positive. Many take depression for granted, many people for instance say “I’m depressed today” when in fact they are simply sad. However, the unfortunate who do suffer from depression have given very vivid descriptions of its effects, take David Foster Wallace’s view for instance, from his book Infinite Jest: “A level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it, a double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible, a nausea of the cells and soul.” Certainly after reading this, I changed my attitude towards how I see those who are depressed. It made it all the more poignant when I discovered that David Foster Wallace, who suffered from depression since his time at university, took his own life in 2008. 

Suicide to many seems a strange and alien concept – indeed philosophers like Albert Camus said suicide is Philosophy’s biggest problem. Often those who commit suicide are treated as cowardly – yet 90% of those who commit suicide suffer from some kind of mental illness. We shouldn’t treat these people as cowardly, indeed to bring in David Foster Wallace again, he said suicide for an individual who suffered from clinical depression was akin to someone jumping from a building when blocked by a fire and with no means of escape other than the window. That’s what depression is. It’s not just feeling ‘blue’, it’s an illness. 

Robin Williams is now sadly amongst the many people who have died as a result of depression. It can affect everyone, from the average working person to the colossi of the intellectual world, and it will take more people if we don’t act. Indeed, statistics show that on average, every two hours someone will take their own life in the U.K, and two-thirds of people who suffer from depression in the U.K won’t get the proper care that they need. All this shows that the people who take their own lives aren’t selfish, or cowardly – simply, they need help, and once we treat depression as it rightfully should be treated, hopefully we won’t lose more people to one of the most sobering illnesses in modern society.  

I think the best way to end this article would be one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard on this matter, from Robin Williams himself: “If you are that depressed, reach out to someone. And remember, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

By Rory Claydon

If anyone is reading this who suffers from depression, I urge you to contact the Samaritans at: 08457 90 90 90 or http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us 

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