|Image courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
Which is particularly pertinent since August 12th (this week) was World Elephant Day!
Mourning this loss of greatness is vital, Williams gave more to the Hollywood film industry and those who loved him than most actors of his time. It is said that his severe depression led him to commit suicide, and I am pleased to see a drive on social media to raise awareness of depression as the very real illness it is, and to highlight the appalling impact it has on the lives of sufferers and their families.
There are many people who still believe that you can "think yourself" out of depression. That it's a life choice. Those people would most likely have supported medieval practices of blood-letting to cure all ills and rebalance the body's "humours" or the belief that women were impure after childbirth and needed to be shut away until they could be "churched". Such views of metal illness are as outdated as this and there is simply no excuse for them to persist.
Having experienced first hand the prejudice surrounding mental illness I know how excruciatingly painful the condemnation of others' ignorance can be. A diabetic is unwell if blood sugar levels vary due to issues with insulin production - a widely understood and accepted problem. The individual with depression is ill because the mood levels vary due to inadequate levels of neurotransmitters called seratonin and dopamine in the brain. But the common lack of knowledge and understanding of brain function means it is still viewed as an area of the body that doesn't somehow conform to the rules the rest subscribes to. Yet it's a straightforward issue of biochemistry. Simple as that.
But such understanding is decades behind the times and still revelationary to far too many. Antidepressants are not a lifestyle drug, a label of weakness or a confession in themselves. They are a chemical compound to restore an imbalance and should be viewed no differently that the diabetic injecting themselves with insulin.
Depression's External Factors
So I wholeheartedly support this week's initiative to spread the word that Depression is real, depression is not self inflicted and rarely self-curable. There are however, external factors that can precipitate or perpetuate Depression and these have barely been touched on. The bigger message here is the severe depression addiction brings, even when you think you are over it. If one thing comes from these celebrity deaths I hope it is a greater awareness by the younger generation of the dangers of drink and drugs.
Williams was hugely talented, like so many of the Hollywood set fell prey to both drink and drugs. Alcohol is a depressant and frequently causes depression in those who drink too much. Drugs like Cocaine then lift the mood and thus addicts fall into a combined cycle of drink and drugs all too often. It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation, since those suffering depression can also seek to self medicate and become addicts as a result... this is described well here. Smokers are more than twice as likely to be depressed as non smokers but do they smoke because they are depressed?
There are many factors involved in addiction, but when alcoholism is involved it would seem it is more likely that addiction preceded the depression, and according to research addiction would seem to cause depression in men more often than the other way around.
You might ask - "does it matter which came first?" but I would argue it does, as it affects treatment. And until we start talking about depression we remain light years from understanding it.
But back to Williams and that Elephant.
The most likely explanation for William's suicide from what I have so far read is of severe depression triggered by chronic addiction. A story becoming far too familiar for far too many. It's a modern problem in a world where too many have too much, too soon where families are dispersed and communities are breaking down. I've written about all these things, many times before. But I don't know the answers, or if the process is even stoppable - let alone reversible.
So let's raise awareness of Depression and Mental Illness. Let's break down the barriers of prejudice, try and understand the role of addiction in depressive illness.
But let's not forget that elephant, before it's too late.
There is something very wrong in our society, we are all getting swept along in a tidal wave of "progress" and individuals are drowning along the way. I want my children to succeed in life - but more than anything I want them to be happy. And I think that requires more than money, more than possessions and more than success. We need to be part of something bigger.
And that is the real issue here. Be extraordinary, be successful, make a difference - and do it together.