Robin Williams’ career spanned for over 30 years. He was a renaissance man, an unconventional soul with palpable authentic sentiment; beginning his creative career within the realm of stand up comedy, and began lending his hand to acting providing powerhouse performances in Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets society, Good Morning, Vietnam. He then utilised his vocal prowess to animation in some of our most beloved childhood classics, namely Aladdin, which many of us will now cherish in lamentation. Many of us are young enough to have experienced him impact some part of media consumption all of our lives. So there is a definite black hole within all of us to some extent.
His animated personality and vibrant character illuminated whatever project he was a part of – so why is it that we find ourselves so shocked about his recent demise? He managed to embody such an illuminating, euphoric presence on stage, maybe this makes his suicide have such a gut-wrenching impact as he was obviously so wounded emotionally. Mental illnesses, namely: Depression, Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder to name but few; are some of the most widely affecting psychological disabilities known to our society. Yet so little notice is taken where it is prevalent. Many of us know a family member dealing with some sort of mental affliction, a dear friend who is battling one of these dark forces or an ex/current spouse enduring the strains one the aforementioned severely troubling disorders. So why is it that we cannot seem to address these issues within our social culture?
Many sufferers of a mental disorder often feel the need to keep it under wraps, at family gatherings or from our extended networks- yet it seems a little antithetical. If this negative societal norm still exists in the 4g, Apple orientated-technological landscape we currently exist in, where virtual reality seems to be more and more on the cusp of our actual reality- then how are archaic stigmas that have been attached to these devastating- yet curable dissociative disorders for decades stayed attached to such an unprogressive way of thinking? The days of your mother having to make excuses for you not making Auntie Geraldine’s 50th do because you were coming down with a fever; when in reality you were too down in the dumps to step out of bed and fess up to mother of the mid 20th Century are no longer fitting with the Instagram culture. Where the ephemeral moment needs to be captured through an array of digital applications, only to be stored by the human rights infringing NSA. Surely by now we are at a stage where these social functions like public holidays based around values that connote generosity and giving should be utilised, and not just for your younger brother to get some get an extra few quid off your grandma; but instead to be utilise as an organic forum where the true emotional despair to be voiced. And then supportive feedback can be aired in a non-threatening environment; in attempt to gain some traction with receiving help from professionals whilst the family of suffered can provide a backbone of aid to allow optimal improvement at pace that’s beneficial.
As we have seen time and time again, ignorance at any scale only leads to inevitable devastation. As with any other degenerative physical ailment, mental disorders also react in the same degradative way. Medical science is now investigating the causes and neurological developments of these common illnesses more often than we’ve seen in the past. We are now much more aware that the more time that transpires, the more complications that follow. Clinical Depression along with many other mental disorders make the sufferer more likely to abuse substances, excessively drink, develop patterns of anti-social behaviour, and increase the likelihood of committing suicide. In the past few years we have seen the effects of this on our most revered celebrities like Amy Winehouse, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and of course Williams. When it was announced posthumously by his wife Susan Schneider, who informed the press that it was not the alcoholism or cocaine addiction that Williams was battling towards the last stages of his life, or the severe Depression he dealt with throughout his career, it was intact the early stages of Parkinson’s that was surely putting an added pressure on him.
The BBC recently reported on medical studies that have been carried out in various countries around the world by scientists successfully proving that long term Depression can encourage the progression of Parkinson’s in people. “As Parkinson’s is a neurological condition caused by a lack of the chemical Dopamine in the brain” (a chemical many sufferers of mental disorders do not possess enough of). The study illustrates that leaving disorders such as Depression, Bipolar and Anxiety Disorders undiagnosed or untreated may have even more negative consequences than the minor social awkwardness that exists. Sufferers of mental illness have to carry a heavy burden upon their shoulders for a variety of reasons, but sociietal pressure becomes the one that overwhelms most. Cara Santa Maria a science communicator and long term sufferer put it aptly: “Societally we are so resistant to looking at mental illness the same way we look at physical illness. If you went up to someone who had type-1 diabetes and said ‘Why can’t you just think more positively so that your pancreas produces more insulin, what’s wrong with you?’; they would logically dismiss you as ignorant and irrational- it’s the same thing with depression. People look at it as a disease of will, but it’s not, it is a biological illness and that’s often very hard for people to understand. And so what happens is people carry around a lot of guilt and shame”.