Like many children born in the 70’s, I grew up in a community that didn’t speak about depression or mental illness. Yet, my mother seemed to have a different perspective than most people. She taught me mental illness, like physical illness, is nothing to be ashamed of, nor hidden. If you are struggling, you seek help. Simple as that. It is a mindset I wish our society could embrace – one of understanding and compassion, rather than indifference, fear, and silent suffering.
By Eva Rinaldi (Flickr: Robin Williams) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I have read a lot of comments online about the recent suicide of the beloved Robin Williams
– some kind, some bewildered, some angry. Everyone has their own grieving process, but I have a hard time reading comments written by people who are angry at Williams, or feel he was selfish. My heart breaks at the thought of him so alone in his mind that he felt the only way out of his darkness was through death.
Just over a year ago a friend of ours took his own life. He was the happiest guy you could think of – always smiling – the last person anyone would have expected to commit suicide. While some people were outraged at his “selfish” act, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken that I had no idea he was in pain, and even more heartbroken that he was unable to share that pain with others. I believe you have to be in a very dark, lonely place to take your own life. Getting angry at someone for succumbing to their depression or mental illness is like getting mad at someone for dying from cancer.
Everyone struggles at some point or another. There is no need to compare the depth or magnitude of your pain with anyone else’s – regardless of the source or intensity, everyone has faced difficult times. The question is, why don’t we talk about it more? Why do we so often choose to isolate ourselves and our pain? Why do we cast off those who are struggling as “weak” instead of reaching out to help them?
Rather than ostracize or dismiss those around us who are grappling with pain, grief, depression, mental illness, or addiction, what if we took a little more time to see people as they are – to affirm their humanity?
If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference. – Robin Williams as Patch Adams
Perhaps if more people understood mental illness, like physical illness, is nothing to be ashamed of, we as a society would be more inclined to seek help in times of need.
So my message to everyone – you are not alone. Chances are, what you are feeling (depression, anxiety, postpartum, addiction, etc.) has been felt by someone else in your life at some point or another. Holding in your feelings only serves to isolate you further. Talk to someone. If you feel like you have no one with whom you can share your burden, then contact an organization like the National Suicide Hotline. Trained counselors are available to talk 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
If you see someone struggling – reach out to them. Don’t be afraid to point them in the direction of professional help. Oftentimes when in a state of despair, seeking help for ourselves is too much a challenge to surmount. Though the easy route is indifference to others’ burdens, extend your hands and help them lift their unbearable weight.