Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 14 August 2014

Robin Williams

I actually wasn’t going to talk about the death of Robin Williams.
Robin Williams's Wiki page

It is being talked about so very much in the news and on the social networks that there seems very little or no need to become yet another voice speculating on the subject of his death or the reasons for it.

I rarely talk about the deaths of celebrities.

We often think that the famous belong to us, but they don’t. They belong to the people that really knew them. Robin Williams had a family who knew and loved him for the man he really was, and I believe it is their right to mourn in private.

But, and it’s quite a big but... The subject of mental health issues, depression in particular, and specifically suicide has come up, and is being very widely discussed.

We all know that I have some personal experience with depression. I’m having some experience with it now. It’s an embuggerance.

It is also, and I cannot stress this enough... It is also utterly impossible to explain to someone who does not suffer from depression just what it is or how it feels. It is not possible for someone who has never suffered from depression to understand the condition. I have said many times that actually I’m glad my family and friends don’t understand it, and I hope they never do understand it, because for that to happen they would have to go through what I go through periodically, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone... not a living soul.

It is a tragedy that, in the twenty-first century, people, wonderful people are still dying from mental health problems. That anyone can do what Robin Williams felt compelled to do is a devastating indictment of our society and perhaps of our willingness to apply resources to finding out more about how this stuff works, and to treating sufferers.

One in four people in the UK will suffer from some mental health issues during their lifetimes. According to Sarah Boseley, the health editor for the Guardian, two-thirds of Britons are never treated for their mental health problems. Imagine if almost seventy percent of diabetes patients or cancer patients were never treated. Imagine if almost seventy percent of dental cavities weren’t filled or if seventy percent of people who needed a hearing aid or corrective glasses or contact lenses were not offered help.

Just because we do not understand depression, does not mean we can dismiss it, or even question it. You can take my word for it when I tell you that I am depressed. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, you can take my doctor’s word for it.

The depression itself is a big enough struggle.

Well-meaning friends and family-members regularly offer kind words of advice. They often tell me that if I did more of this or less of that, or just worked through it, or put a smile on my face, or any of a number of things, that I would feel better. I do my best, my very, very best to be patient with them, and not to dismiss what they say, and to have that conversation. When I can’t do those things I take myself away from them, because I don’t want to be difficult and I don’t want to hurt them or burden them more than I already do. I don’t want to alienate them, either.

They find me aloof and difficult, and often selfish. I know that they do. I wonder what they’d think of me if they knew me in the full flow of my depression. I prefer they don’t know me like that.

If it can be that tough with the people who love me, can you imagine how it might be with acquaintances? And beyond that can you imagine what it might be like with strangers? Can you imagine what it’s like in a society that constantly questions my strength of character?

I cannot tell you what it is to be depressed. Some people, without actually knowing or understanding what it’s like still know that depression is real, and still have the capacity for the same acceptance they would have for any form of illness. Some people do not.

For the depressed person, there is no way to know who will be accepting of his depression and who won’t.

Some of the people who struggle most to accept it, some of the people who fight it the hardest are those closest to the depressed person, and that only causes more pain.

Depression can be the loneliest place in the World to live.

To anyone on the inside, who understands depression, the suicide of a depressed person is always a sadness and never a surprise.

It is those who don’t understand depression, who speculate, who wonder, who talk, who are hurt and angered and confused by it.

I hope those closest to Robin Williams will come to accept his illness and his death. Who knows, perhaps they accepted his illness while he lived among them. Perhaps they accepted it just as much as they loved him. I hope so.

I hope the time will come sooner than later when people stop dying from mental health problems.

I hope there is still hope.


  1. All of this, Nik, thanks for posting it.

  2. There is unfortunately a misunderstanding among some that the depressed "just" need to cheer up. If one good thing has come from the tragedy that Mr Williams and his family and friends have been through and are going through, it is a public discussion that may offer a better understanding of mental health issues to those who have never thought themselves to have a reason to consider it.


    1. My understanding is that one defining quality of depression is that the victim cannot cheer up; they are trapped in the depression until chemical or psychological factors allow them to have a cheerful thought.

      So, ironically, the only thing telling them to cheer up does is reinforce any feelings of inadequacy they already had, making the depression wider, deeper, or stronger.