‘What did he have to be depressed about?’

Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. Northumbria University graduate. Opinionated, my aim is to fuel debate. My favourite questions in life are Why? How? And What? My Favourite answers tend to start with It depends or Yes & No.

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With the sad passing of Robin Williams I was shocked at several responses. I overheard one person say ‘With all the fame and money, what did he have to be depressed about’? This infuriated me. However this was not the end to my rage, Fox news anchor Shepard Smith branded Williams a coward saying ‘One of the children he loved so much, one of the children grieving tonight because their father killed himself in a fit of depression.’ ‘You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20’s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known. And yet something inside of you is so horrible, or you’re such a coward, or whatever the reason that you decide you have to end it.’ By now my lid had blown.

This is not the first time I have heard such statements made, similar ill-informed things have been said to me about my depression. These fleeting dismissive statements about an illness that is not fully understood only reinforces the stigma attached to people who suffer with depressive illnesses. The perception that people with depression are just a bit down and should just snap out of it is far from the reality. It is not something we can just snap out of. It becomes a crushing weight upon your mind, a sensation that only those who suffer it can begin to understand what it is like. One statement made to me was that if I could laugh, I clearly wasn’t depressed. My first thought was of ‘what utter rubbish.’ There are, or have been comedians out there including Robin Williams that suffer from depression. For me personally making people laugh is like a drug. I get high on the sound of laughter, especially if I’m the one that has caused that delightful sound. That fuels the feel-good factor about myself and I imagine it does for those professional comedians. We find ways to cope with the crushingly low moods. There is no one cure. I have spoken about the numerous counselling sessions and the medication that I am on and still I am not cured.

Williams had suffered with this illness longer than I have been alive, so as for the branding of ‘coward’ I would find that to be anything but true. If anything he showed great strength in his life. Not only coping with depression but with drug and alcohol addiction. As for others who may say that to commit suicide is selfish. I would disagree with you. I do not claim to know of the quite frankly scary thoughts of suicide. I am lucky as to date I have not been so low, so deep in despair that I have gotten to that dark place. I have however got to a place where I have wanted harm to come to me at the hands of another. The urge to just be hit by a car or have a limb broken by a fall down the stairs has crossed my mind and that alone is scary. I can deduce that in that state of mind I have on some level a desire for physical pain to distract from the mental anguish or on another level, the desire for a physical ailment that can be fixed. With this personal insight I can only imagine what thoughts of suicide must be like, and even then I doubt I could be anywhere near close to what the reality of it is.

I am reminded of what Stephen Fry said when discussing his second suicide attempt. He said ‘There is no reason for someone wanting to take their own life. There is no why? It is not the right question. There is no reason for it. If there were a reason for it you could reason someone out of it and you could tell them they shouldn’t take their own life’. This is the thing that scares me most about my illness. What if I go beyond the point of reason? What if I can’t answer the question ‘why?’ My watching people I look up to who also suffer with my illness, people with fame and fortune and I see and hear of such suicide attempts both successful and failed scares me.

The lack of reason, just try to imagine it, just for a moment. Hard isn’t it? Straight away your mind may fight such thoughts, for it is reasoning with the idea. Asking the question ‘What do they have to be depressed about?’ is not one with a straightforward answer. Depression doesn’t discriminate, no amount of money, fame or security can fix it. The funniest man on earth can’t just think positive and be healed. Depression is not a fashion trend, criticising the actions of those who have it won’t deter people from getting it. It’s not a choice. As Fry put it ‘I am the victim of my own moods, more than most people, in as much as I have a condition which requires me to take medication so that I don’t get too depressed to the point of suicide’.

So next time you make a snap judgment based on hearing someone is depressed or that they have committed suicide because of it. Try to use that reasoning that they may have lost. That reasoning that has spent so long fighting for that person’s sanity. That reasoning that you are so lucky to have unchallenged to look at the wider picture. After all why should people be judged for something beyond their control.

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