When I think of Robin Williams, I think of his amazing energy, his ability to captivate audiences with every gesture, and his tremendous body of work. This is partly why it was so shocking to learn that Mr. Williams passed away on Monday as a result of hanging himself. After hearing the news, my first thought was, “Why?” I then had to catch myself and backtrack. When someone who is rich and famous kills themselves, some question the validity of the person’s suffering by stating, “But they seemed so happy.” As anyone who has been through mental illness knows, though, it doesn’t matter the external circumstances of said person. Happiness is something that can only be achieved through within. If you are depressed, you are depressed. Depression does not discriminate against age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, culture, or zip code. A person can have every desirable material possession in the world and yet, if they do not see the point in living, still feel entirely alone and lost. This does not make them ungrateful or selfish. It means that they are suffering from an extremely painful and entirely valid mental illness.
Another equally problematic perception is the idea that depression must be visible to be real. That is, if someone is to be “really” depressed (as opposed to just faking it), they must wear dark clothing and curl themselves into a ball in the corner of their room and drink black coffee while they contemplate the emptiness of it all. While this may be some people’s version of depression, it is not everyone’s. You can still have a job and be depressed. You can still have a family and be depressed. You can still laugh and smile and be depressed. You can still be a legendary entertainer with an astonishing career and still be depressed. Being able to put on a happy show does not mean that your internal life matches the expression on your face. Some of the happiest-looking individuals can have some of the saddest souls.
While saying this does not bring Mr. Williams back, it is an important idea to remember. Give your light to everyone you see, because you never know what dark paths they travel through when they are alone.