I, like many others, was shocked to hear the news that Robin Williams passed away this week. For decades, he was the ultimate funny man, bringing joy and laughter to millions.
But what troubled me most was hearing the news that he had taken his own life, and worse, that he suffered for years with debilitating bouts of depression.
If the media reports are correct, he lost his battle against depression. As is often the case, that battle is lost through suicide.
Looking at comments about his death on social and conventional media, I can’t help but notice how many people really don’t seem to understand that depression is a disease. It isn’t a choice—you can’t just flip off a switch and suddenly feel better.
When someone dies from cancer, we say they died from cancer.
When someone dies from heart disease, we say they died from heart disease.
When someone dies from depression, we say they committed suicide, or that they overdosed.
We judge them. Everything that we thought we knew about them suddenly changes because they made such an awful, horrible “choice.”
Suicide (and suicide ideation) are symptoms of the disease, and those with depression do not choose to have those symptoms any more than a cancer patient chooses to have a tumor or a heart patient chooses to have a heart attack.
So as we look at Robin Williams’ high-profile death, maybe the one thing we can take away is to remember that depression can kill. Millions of people suffer the effects of depression for years and years. But it isn’t a choice they have made. It isn’t something they’ve wished upon themselves.
They need understanding and empathy, instead of judgment.