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depression & Robin Williams

This morning, I was deeply saddened to read about the death of the US comedian and actor, Robin Williams, in an apparent suicide. I was aware that Williams has had his personal issues, but not to the extent that he would take his own life. It is probably true to say that the personality traits that made him famous in the first place have played a role in his decline, behaviour and frame of mind. This is a tragedy for his family, and he will be sorely missed by legions of fans. I have loved several of his films – ‘Good Will Hunting’ and ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ spring to mind. I remember seeing both at formative periods in my life. Williams has definitely left a mark on me.

Depression can be a truly awful condition, which shows no respect for boundaries of social class or standing, age, talent, wealth or fame. Anyone can be affected, at any time or stage of his or her life. The effects of the condition can be truly debilitating, and, at their worst, those afflicted will be totally unable to function at any level, experiencing hopelessness & helplessness to the extent that they will not want to carry on. It is commonplace for such an individual to feel that their families and loved ones will be better off without them. This is never true. I have experienced situations and met individuals going through this many times in my career - suicide always ruins families, and leaves a dark, negative, painful emotional legacy like no other.

Although depression can be difficult to treat in some individuals, in my experience there is always a way to connect, get through to a person, and help them turn a corner and begin to see a way forward. I have no doubt that Williams, given his fame and wealth, could have had access to whatever professional help he wanted or needed. But for whatever reason, he felt unable to go on. This makes me immensely sad.

If I were to offer key pieces of advice to individuals experiencing depression, here is the following:

  • Seek support, and seek it early. Getting the right kind of support at the right time is pretty fundamental in treating depression. Professional help is a requirement for some. Many people, and particularly men, feel a sense of shame or stigma in accessing help, which is almost always misplaced. There is nothing shameful in seeking help for mental health conditions. I’ll say that again. There is nothing shameful in seeking help for mental health conditions.

  • Control your use of substances. Alcohol and drugs are an easy port of call for people with depression. They offer a simple, and effective, short term fix. But they resolve nothing and more often than not make things a lot worse. There is the added negative impact of the withdrawal effects from whichever drug you take – these will often worsen depressed mood.

  • Get more active. Activity helps. Anything from walking, playing a sport, listening to music, watching a movie, or simply getting out of the house, can help. Small and simple goals are vital, rather than setting yourself unrealistic or unachievable targets.

  • Confront your issues. Over the longer term, people with depression will need to address the issues on-going in their life that may have contributed to their mood and situation. There is usually a context around depression for an individual. A head-in-the-sand way of coping is not effective. Working with a professional can help you work out what to do and when.

If anyone reading this has found himself or herself at a low point such as this, pick up the phone. Call someone, anyone. Your GP is a good place to start. The Samaritans number is 08457 90 90 90. There is always hope.

Yours in psychology,


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