“Twenty-six years ago, you played a game with a little boy down the street. A game with drums.” (Jumanji, 1995)
I can remember watching Jumanji as a kid, and getting really into the “horrors” and surprises of the story. Floods! Stampedes! A man trapped in the jungle because of a game!
Robin Williams didn’t stand out much to me at the time — I was only 5 when the movie was released and didn’t care about people in movies one way or another. What I did remember all those years ago, and even now, was his quirky smile and laugh. He voiced Genie in Aladdin, which was unforgettable. There was Mrs. Doubtfire — unforgettable in a totally different way. I remember him in Good Will Hunting, Flubber, Jack, Hook, Bicentennial Man, and many more. Williams was known as a comedian but he was also unforgettable in dramatic roles.
Once I start thinking about everything he was in, I realize that not only was he an icon but also a big part of my life through movies.
“Our job is improving the quality of life, not just in delaying death.” (Patch Adams, 1998)
This year I watched “Angriest Man in Brooklyn”, where he starred alongside Mila Kunis. There was also the “Crazy Ones” on CBS, which I was looking forward to watching again in the Fall. When I read the news on Twitter, my first thoughts went to this show. How could someone who was still relevant, still funny, still talented take his own life?
I’m sure there will be a lot of speculation in the week ahead. As an audience, we don’t know Robin Williams’ mental state, his financial state, or his physical state at the time of his death. We know him as the actor, and I know it’s hard for me to separate him from his on-screen personalities. You may have heard that he had a history of drug addiction, and may have been bipolar. What I do know is that he brought laughter, wisdom and energy into the world of entertainment.
Robin Williams’ movies will live on, and in that way so will he. Many more people will find joy in his work. He deserves that.
I hope that this moment will also be a reminder that even relevant, funny and talented people can be depressed. They can need help and be lost when they don’t receive it. They can commit suicide.
“It’s not your fault.”
I hate to sound cliché but “in this day and age” a lot of us are only friends behind screens. It’s easy for us to believe that we are doing our best to make a connection with someone through social media. But if someone simply disappeared off Facebook, would you know how to reach them? Don’t leave any one who you believe is depressed or suicidal alone. Reach out to them. If you are talking to the person online you can try to find someone who knows them or in a worst-case scenario: call the police. Don’t be embarrassed to do something that could save their life.
Dr. John Grohol, founder of PsychCentral.com, shared one of the most well-written posts regarding Williams and his mental health I’ve read so far. Similar to my own point, he writes this:
Suicide is an insidious choice due to the lies that depression tells us. When a person is suffering from severe depression, as apparently Williams was, it can tell that person, “Hey, you’d be better off dead. Life isn’t going to get any better.”
And sadly, sometimes people listen. Even brilliant, accomplished individuals such as Robin Williams.
Let your friend know you’re listening. Listen without judging is difficult, but try to do it. Ask them what they might need help with. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re considering suicide. A lot of people want help but don’t know how to ask for it.
Tell them that it’s not their fault. What they’re feeling does not define them, and that there is help available. Mean what you say and be there for them. They might tell you that they’re “ok” or that you’ll embarrass them, but think about what the other options are.
Depression and other mental health issues are extremely stigmatized. Remember that. Depressed people may feel that their seemingly small problems are taking over, meanwhile their friends or their parents will not validate their pain and fears. This can drive them away from real help in order to seem “normal”. Encourage the people you know to seek professional help.
It’s only fair to you and to them. There are plenty of free, confidential and easy ways to talk to someone.
Here are some resources I hope will be helpful:
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)