Robin Williams' Suicide Shines a Light on Depression

Yui Mok/PA Wire Yui Mok/PA Wire

On Monday, August 11, 2014, actor Robin Williams was found dead in his Tiburon, California home due to an apparent suicide. Williams had been open about battling addiction and depression for decades, though his death still comes as a shock to many of his adoring fans who have been so moved by his career.

Williams is well renowned for his more serious roles (Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting), but he’s considered by many a comedic genius, particularly famous for the roles that many of us grew up with (Genie in Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Peter Pan in Hook). Many of his fans are shocked to discover that a man who gave the world so much joy and laughter and warmth was struggling with depression.

Though depression affects an estimated 1 in every 10 Americans at some point in their lives, it still often carries a stigma. Depression isn’t always obvious in those affected — the class clown, the head of the company, the happiest person you know are all equally likely to struggle with it.

This stigma and stereotype not only leads people to believe that depression is something to be ashamed of or embarrassed by, but makes it more difficult for many of those suffering to get the help they need. According to Healthline’s 2012 Depression Statistics (below), over 80% of those who experience symptoms of clinical depression are not receiving any specific treatment for it. If there is any positive takeaway from this tragedy, it is the hope that an important topic will be more openly discussed, and fewer people will have to suffer in silence.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression symptoms, such as lack of interest in or pleasure doing things, feeling down and/or hopeless, or trouble concentrating, please encourage them to not be ashamed and to seek help. Resources are available, and depression is treatable. Organizations like iFred can help you find the next step. And if you’re a Choices subscriber, look for the “Depressed, But Not Ashamed” story in our upcoming November/December issue, featuring the stories of six teens working to shine a light on their depression and share their own experiences with the world.

And if you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800)-273-TALK or (800) 273-8255 immediately. There is someone on the line and available to talk 24/7.

Depression statistics infographic