Robin Williams’ apparent suicide hits home – the realities of mental illness
Suicide. Depression. Mental ill health. It’s real.
Facts and figures are frequently bandied about regarding suicide and mental ill health, but I have no interest in saturating you with more. I want to talk about the realities.
Firstly; I am sorry that it has taken the death of a well known public figure to encourage me to write this, but, you see, I’ve had my own battles to fight. I’ve won the war, I know I have, but there are those last few battles that I have to fight as some refuse to give in and admit their defeat.
I have never understood how people can become so emotional over the death of someone they did not know personally, someone they knew only through a personality concocted by directors of movies. That is, until today. The untimely passing of Robin Williams, who it appears took his own life, saddened me greatly. As a young child I recall watching Mrs Doubtfire at my grandmother’s house and laughing hysterically throughout. But this is not about Williams’ career, in fact, it’s not about Williams at all really. It’s about a darkness that cares not for one’s wealth, age, gender, social status or anything else. It is an illness, a truly real illness, but it has one key distinction that sets it aside from others; it is largely unseen.
When depression takes hold, it does so in a way that can affect anyone and affect all it targets, differently. Cancer is talked about openly, and that is how it should be. If a young man breaks his arm at school/college then the cast will go on and usually it will be signed by his peers, but should someone be broken by mental illness we are left none the wiser until too often it is too late.
It is OK to talk about depression, about ill mental health of any kind, and it is OK to ask for help. Those who seek to continue perpetuating the ill-thought out myths that to even consider suicide is selfish do not see the dark irony in their statements, that irony being that their words, their views and their actions serve only to make it more difficult for people to talk about how they feel and to ask for help. Whilst it must be stressed that the only person responsible for their actions is themselves, one might argue that indirectly, those who seek to dismiss others as attention seeking or selfish are a contributing factor in suicides.
Writing this is taking me a lot of motivation, a lot of effort. You see, I’ve been hiding away lately with struggles of my own. I felt alone, I convinced myself that I would never amount to anything, I was sure that any small inkling of talent I had was simply going to waste, and most of all, I felt like a failure. It’s been six months or so now since I stopped taking medication for anxiety and depression, but as I alluded to earlier, there are still battles to be won.
The outpouring of grief over the death of a public figure is understandable, but the pleasant surprise was that so many seem to finally appreciate mental illness is truly a dangerous affliction to those who experience it. Nonetheless, it takes a significant figure’s death to highlight that suicide is not selfish, that people who seek to end their lives are not just looking for attention. Whilst it is encouraging that mental health is discussed, perhaps it would have more power if we talked about it when we needed to, if we accepted it on a wider scale.
People need to know that there is someone out there for them to go to. Talking about one’s feelings does not simply allow the cessation of pain, but it gives an outlet, it gives a person hope.
Mental ill health is prevalent, far more so than some would have us believe. It needs to be treated on a par with physical health. There are a total of 14 inpatient CAMHS beds in the whole of Wales. There are over 300 beds in general hospitals in the same country for the same age range. Parity has not been reached. You probably don’t remember this, but a Private Member’s Bill was introduced into Parliament regarding mental illness, the Act was passed but not before a “debate” was held. One “practising fruitcake” MP was honest to explain his troubles, as were a handful of others. Alas, the Parliamentary chamber was almost deserted, arguably representing the view of MPs towards mental health.
Taking the services out of the equation, people have an ability to help each other. Ask someone how they are feeling and mean it, send them a text, an email, a letter even. What we have, is the ability to offer hope in the most hopeless of places, an ability to shine a light down the darkest, deepest tunnel, an ability to haul someone from off the floor and onto their feet again. Professional support is essential but if we combine it with personal care for one another then perhaps we can go some way towards defeating this invisible illness.
I have seen first-hand what mental illness can do to people and I have experienced it myself. Writing is my passion, yet when I was younger my illness robbed me of the ability to construct sentences, to write coherently and at length all in one. I fought back, but from time to time I struggle to write because I have no motivation to do anything. There have been days where I haven’t wanted to leave my bed, days where all I’ve felt is that the best thing for everyone would be to rid the world of my presence, what I believed to be my worthless, futile presence. There are a number of people close to me who have taken overdoses or self-harmed in other ways in an attempt to find a way to subdue their pain, only to realise that it is a most destructive action, to see that there was always someone willing to listen and to remind them that they can recover from their illness.
Fortunately for me, I and my friends have received sufficient help, I have someone by my side who shows me that I am cared for, loved, appreciated and that my life serves a purpose. I also have a group of mates who happen to share the same love of a football team who are incredibly understanding when it comes to my editorial duties of the fanzine we run and offer their support should I need it; and I have a friend who put her experiences to great use by studying to be and recently qualifying as a mental health nurse.
We have to sit and listen to people, to understand what they are feeling, what they are trying to tell us and what they need. We need to not only listen, but we need to hear them.
If you are suffering, I implore you to reach out and tell someone. Anyone. It’s OK to talk.