It is so very sad that Robin Williams found no way to alleviate his suffering. I’ve read many of the tweets from people who treasured his genius and whose lives had been touched by his wonderful gift. There are a smattering of tweets who call attention to the serious problem of depression and suicide, but there was one tweet that, it seems to me, typifies the reaction of people who have no idea about depression and it’s devastating consequences. The tweet went something like: I can understand celebrity deaths from overdoses, but I have no respect for someone who commits suicide. A person who would say something like this has no idea about, or understanding of depression. This is the kind of person who would assess another’s depression as something they should just ‘get over’.
Full disclosure: I have never had major depressive disorder, and don’t pretend to understand how it feels. On the other hand I am not a stranger to mental illness, or to exposure to people who think differently. My older brother is autistic, very low functioning and has never spoken. When I was a child, I used to visit him at Willowbrook, the New York State Institution on Long Island where he was housed with 6,000 other patients.
Yes, I have had exposure to people of all different mental abilities and mental states. I have been in an emergency room when I saw a poor soul who was so upset, she was begging the doctors for a pill to relieve her terrible anxiety. I have seen people who could not function at all, and were helped by means of a prescription pill.
I don’t understand my brother’s autism and he cannot help me understand. He cannot talk and, if he understands anything, he hasn’t made it known to me. I spent the better part of this blog (January 2013 to mid-November 2013) trying to reconstruct any moment of communication between my brother and me over the past 50+ years, that I might have missed.
My experience with Mike has made me sensitive to the mental states of other people, perhaps ‘empathetic‘ is the word I’m looking for. I realize that the way I think is not necessarily the way others do; on the contrary, it is probably not the way others think. I know that I must listen to another person if I am to gain any understanding of them at all. I know I must question when I don’t understand and I must believe what other people tell me about themselves to get any idea of how they see the world.
Among the tweets about Robin Williams’ death, there are those that offer help to those who are depressed. I don’t know how to help those who are unreachable, but some people do.
It is clear that many people do not get the help or support they need. I can’t imagine their pain.