Like so many, last night I was left deeply saddened to hear of the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. I was literally lying in bed listening to ‘Flight to Neverland’ from the score of Hook with tears in my eyes, which came to a head when I made the mistake of watching the final scene of Mrs Doubtfire: ‘all my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be alright’ always used to make me teary, but I know now I’ll full on break down. Initially, this reaction surprised me, in the sense that I was thinking ‘I never even met this man, why on earth am I so affected?’ Shortly after, I took to my Twitter and can honestly say I have never experienced such an intense mass public outpouring of heartbreak and loss like it. More noticeable than this though was the tremendous sense of respect, warmth and gratitude that abounded, which helped me answer my question: this man, through his tremendous acting, his comedy and his spirit touched and inspired so many lives, and that to me demonstrates the mark of a true artist. Many of his films were a staple of my childhood, and even now I’m still discovering and enjoying his work, and will proudly continue to do so. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and all of us who were inspired by him, and I thank him for sharing his gift with the world.
Hearing that his death was an apparent suicide gave me great pause for thought and has challenged me to change the way I look at the world and how I relate to people. Depression is a terrible illness, and though I have never experienced the dark places it can trap people in first hand, it has touched my life in the sense that some of the funniest, kindest and most awesome people that I am proud to call my friends deal with it day in, day out. I hear and read it often described as a black cloud that will follow you around, and some days the downpour can be torrential. Some might say that because I’ve never experienced it myself I have no idea how it really feels, and they’d be right. I have no clue. In all honesty, there have been times that friends have let me in when they’ve been suffering like this and I’ve felt this awful sense of being completely useless as a friend because I don’t have the answer, didn’t know what to say to make it better. Nowadays though, I’m slowly learning to understand that what I can do to help isn’t about knowing exactly the right thing to say or do, it’s about being there to help that person hold that umbrella up against the cloud, and help dry them off when they need it, even if my efforts make only the minimal bit of difference. Then I will feel I’ve done my job as a friend. Roughly two weeks ago, I took a walk with my grandpa and my carer at the time across the Clifton Suspension Bridge here at home. About halfway across we stopped to take in the view, and grandpa pointed out the fencing running along the edge. He said that it had to be put up to try and discourage jumpers. I also spotted a plaque nearby with the number for the Samaritans on it, and it made me realise something: we as a society seem to have a major troubling taboo about mental health, depression in particular and this needs to change. Yes I may not know how it feels, but I do know that I am not OK with the idea that people can suffer for so long in silence to the point they feel that the world is better without them in it, or that death is the only way to make whatever pain they are going through end.
There are of course treatments, but not everybody has access to the support they need, and anti-depressants aren’t the answer for everyone.
One thing that really riles me is when I hear ‘what did they have to be depressed about?’ so I implore everybody: be kind, be open and don’t be afraid to talk and be there for each other, because that person may be facing a battle you know nothing about and feel completely alone when there is no need to feel that way and we all have power to make a difference to someone however small and insignificant it may seem to us at the time. As Robin observed in Dead Poets Society: ‘No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.’