Affordable Care Act, healthcare — August 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Honor Robin Williams’ memory by talking about mental health


We need to talk about mental illness until no one is afraid to ask for help.

As the world mourns the loss of Robin Williams, there are two things we must remember.

The first is the light he shared with us, bringing us laughter and genius and inspiration that will outlive us all.

The second is that depression is an excruciating form of mental illness, often difficult to recognize and even harder to overcome. We must talk about it more and do more to help those who are struggling.

With these two actions, perhaps Williams’ death won’t be entirely in vain.

When the news of Williams’ death from an apparent suicide came through, there was an unprecedented torrential downpour of rain in metro Detroit. At the time, as I wept for Williams, I said to a friend, “The universe is sobbing.”

As it should when any light is dimmed by depression or mental illness. This morning, my friend and fellow Eclectablogger Anne Savage wrote this on Facebook:

Why is it that we as a society still can’t talk about mental health like we talk about physical health? Everyone struggles at some point in their life, even the rich and famous, and if we were more open about it, maybe, just maybe, those suffering alone would feel a little less lonely.

That’s what prompted this post.

We must talk about mental health. We must take away the stigma and shame that so often surrounds mental illness, including depression. I have yet to meet anyone struggling with depression who can get through it alone. When I was knocked down by depression after losing both my parents within a year, I did not get through it alone.

Whether it’s a spouse, a parent, a friend or a trained professional, people with mental illness absolutely must ask for help — and must receive it unconditionally. I did, and I’m stronger now because of it.

You probably know someone with depression. You might not realize it, because so many people try to hide it, or think if they put on a brave face no one will notice the tremendous pain. They even try to hide it from themselves, which only makes it worse. Sometimes, their anguish seeps through the cracks and people recognize it. But far too often, it’s too well hidden.

We need to start talking about depression and mental illness. It’s part of our everyday life, so we must talk about it like it is.

If you see someone struggling, don’t hesitate to ask how you can help. Sometimes the simplest gesture of kindness can be a lifeline.

If you are struggling — especially if you have reached the point of hopelessness — know that there is no shame in asking for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also chat with someone online.

You don’t need to be suicidal to ask for help. In fact, no one should wait that long. You can learn more about mental health and treatment options at the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mental health and substance abuse services are now covered as an essential benefit — something you may not realize if you’re new to insurance or changed plans this year. A loving network of friends and family can do wonders, but a professional can do even more. Talking with a trained counselor costs far less than you might think, so take advantage of that healing opportunity. If you don’t have insurance, your local health department can steer you toward resources.

Depression is defined as deep, persistent feelings of sadness that last more than a couple of weeks, or make you think about suicide or harming yourself, or that make you want to give up on the things you love doing the most.

We can all feel deep sadness from time to time — as so many of us feel in the wake of the death of Robin Williams and Michael Brown and so many Israelis and Palestinians and others around the world. That’s natural, and we should mourn the untimely deaths of far, far too many.

But if sadness doesn’t go away, don’t ignore it. Talk about it.

We all need to talk about it. Until the day comes when no one is ever afraid to talk about mental health again.

[Photo credit: Feggy Art | via Flickr]