A Farewell to Robin Williams: What His Death Taught Me About Mental Health Illness

Growing up, Robin Williams was by far one of my favorite actors.  I have always associated him with fun, laughter, and finding joy in the silly things in life.  I knew Robin Williams no better than any other of his fans, but his death felt very tragic and personal; he was so deeply associated with my childhood and the movies that I loved so much as a kid.  More importantly, Robin’s death made me think about so many other people out there who are silently suffering from a mental health illness.  My own father had suffered from depression for a few years, and I witnessed him make every attempt possible to stay to himself and isolated from others during that time.  I am not sure if this was due to the stigma that our society has about mental health illness or maybe the depression caused him to feel different from others or that no one would understand him.  And this is the hardship that a person with mental illness has to endure; they look perfectly fine, there are no visible signs of disability on them, no bruises, no broken arms, no crutches, or cast around their leg; so we expect them to act and behave like the rest of us.  We are a society that is all about perspective; if you visibly look okay, if you are able to make funny jokes and make millions of people laugh and be happy, than we expect you to be happy as well.  Perhaps that expectation is too much to bear for a mentally ill person.  Rather than explaining that they are suffering from a mental health illness, it is easier to isolate yourself, or in the case of Robin Williams, be the funniest guy in the room and hide the pain behind the jokes.  We are all so quick to come to the aid of someone who has been diagnosed with a serious physical illness like cancer, but we find it so easy to turn our backs on a mental condition that we do not understand and cannot see. Robin William’s tragic death due to depression helped me better understand what my father went through a few years ago, and how brave he was for finally coming to us, his family, and trying to express his feelings the best he could at the time and letting us help him get better.  I hope that many other families open their arms to a loved one who is suffering from a mental health illness, and try to bring the same level of compassion as they would if their loved one was diagnosed with a serious physical health condition.

Also keep in mind that Social Security does recognize a severe mental health condition that has prevented an individual from working for 12 months or longer as a disability.  The key is the individual needs to get mental health treatment to prove their case.

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