Robin Williams was unique. Many people seemed to live inside him. He made so many laugh yet his death was so tragic.
It’s tempting to think that Robin Williams would have been lifted out of despondency if only he had read all the Twitter comments praising his amazing career as an actor and comedian. This would not be a safe assumption. And it could lead to unnecessary guilt for those who were closest to him.
Words of affirmation and encouragement that lift most people are strangely distant and impotent to those gripped with depression. When lost in despondency people feel unable to shake an outlook of despair no matter what others say to them.
Robin Williams was transparent about his battle with depression and his efforts to self-medicate. It’s sad to see anyone overcome by such despondency.
It appears that the man who played so many characters faced his greatest challenge in the role of Robin Williams. He found his most uncomfortable and vexing role in being himself as he moved from one role to another with enviable ease and humor.
I know what it’s like to feel trapped in sadness. A dark cloud looms over the mind. It’s not uncommon for those who battle severe depression to give up all hope of living a life of joy and contentment. We feel stuck in a flight pattern we cannot escape.
And the battle is compounded by a sense of guilt. We feel we ought to be stronger and better. We ought to be able to deal with things. We don’t want to be a burden to others. And there are always well-intentioned people eager to remind us of how good we actually have it and of how many people have far worse circumstances.
One important question we must all ask is whether we have room in our lives for normal sadness. Do we now live in cultures that encourage unrealistic expectations of uninterrupted happiness? Are we teaching young people the truth about how tough life can be?
Standard criteria for diagnosing depressive disorder does not adequately distinguish intense normal sadness from biologically disordered sadness. Sadness is part of life for all people.
But some battle sadness at a different level and we must not risk hurting those who struggle with debilitating depression by reducing all discouragement to a matter of choice.
Help for those who struggle
Discouraged people need to hear words of encouragement and maybe even gentle admonishments. Yet some kinds of sadness have physical causes that can’t be cured by simply choosing to cheer up and see things differently.
Biologically based depression cannot be treated exactly the same way as intense normal sadness. We must come to terms with these distinctions to avoid piling more guilt and sadness to those who struggle with severe depression.
Relatively recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience have provided hope for those who suffer with depression.
I am grateful for the medicines available to assist those who struggle with depression. Those who benefit from medication must never be made to feel embarrassed about needing it. They are no different from those who take medication for deficiencies in other bodily organs. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made and tragically fallen.
Those who battle prolonged and debilitating depression should consider medicinal aid. Yet medicinal aid must never be understood as the total solution to depression. We are more than bodies with physical needs. All other dimensions of life (spiritual, emotional, psychological and social) must receive thoughtful attention in our battle for health.
In the spiritual dimension, the Psalmist offered a great example of confronting despondency by speaking to himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:6). Part of the battle with sadness is learning how to speak truth and encouragement into your life when your mind pulls you toward a darker outlook.
See: Spiritual Depression