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Robin Williams’ Death: Hiding the Pain in Our Laughter

I don’t think I have ever been so affected by the passing of a celebrity in my life. Ever.

I tend to hold to the belief that no matter how often we may see celebrities in the media, we don’t really know them. But the news of Robin Williams’ death was different; this was shocking, almost—unbelievable. Growing up, Williams was the doctor I always wanted, a dad that would dress up as a nanny just to be close to me, he was the professor I could hope for and wish-granting genie.

I think about how shocked I was at hearing the passing of Williams at the age of 63 and as I write this post, I still don’t think I have completely digested how a man could bring joy onto the lives of many, yet be suffering inside.

Williams died in an apparent suicide at his Northern California home on Monday.

“He has been battling severe depression,” his publicist, Mara Buxbaum told CNN. “This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

One area of Wiliams’ life that may not have been as visible as his on-screen performances was the different charitable causes he represented. In 2004, and up until the time of his death, Williams dedicated much of his time fundraising for St. Jude’s hospital, never charging for his public appearances.

“Whenever he had an opportunity to meet patients and families he would do it,” said Kelly Schulz, vice president of communications at St. Jude.

As a board member of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, “Robin would do two or three dinners or events for us each year,” said Peter Wilderotter, CEO of the foundation. “Many celebs have requirements about cars and who they will talk to, but Robin was the opposite. He showed up on his own and he stayed at our events and talked to everyone.”

A portion of President Obama’s statement regarding Williams mentioned his support for American troops.

“He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.”

The United Service Organization said that throughout his 12 years of involvement, Williams created special moments for nearly 90,000 servicemen and servicewomen in 13 countries.

“Williams traveled around the world to lift the spirits of our troops and their families. He will always be a part of our USO family and will be sorely missed,” the organization said in a statement.

Williams’ wife, Susan Schnider says, “…I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on his death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

It is hard to come to terms with the fact that a man who battled depression and alcoholism was able to devote the majority of his time bringing laughter into the homes of many. People who are creative, have deeper connections and show pure forms of empathy, have difficulty expressing their needs, wants and desires.  Often, these people are hurting right  in front of us at the check out counter, at church sitting next to us, or working with us, but never show it and unfortunately, never ask for help.

The Research has consistently shown a strong link between suicide and depression. 90% of the people who die by suicide having an existing mental illness or substance abuse problem at the time of their death. We need to change our stance on mental illness and recognize it as a disease, not a character flaw.

The facts on suicide:

  • The strongest risk factor for suicide is depression.
  • Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans every year.
  • Over half of all suicides occur in adult men, ages 25-65.
  • Many who attempt suicide never seek professional care.

For confidential help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

For confidential support on suicide matters call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit
a local Samaritans branch or visit http://www.samaritans.org/

For certified counselors committed to the work of the Lord contact West Angeles Church (323) 737-7463.

Through the tragedy of a lost childhood icon, it is my belief and hope that this may shed more light on the seriousness of mental illness.