Robin Williams and the Status of Mental Health

Much has been written about Robin Williams’s passing since the news broke out on Monday. With this in mind, and at the risk of sounding redundant in the current sea of eulogies, reflections, news reports, etc., we at Crown Jewels would like to share our thoughts as well. As we all share in the grief of losing one of the greatest talents of our time – both comic and otherwise – we can also notice how his death struck a common cord among many of us.

His death by suicide following a period of depression is a reminder of several things. (1) Mental illness is usually invisible. It is not as physical in its manifestation as many forms of cancer or AIDS, for example. (2) It can affect any of us. This is probably where most people’s sense of surprise stems from. How could someone so successful and widely appreciated possibly feel so low? He had an enviable career and millions of admirers around the world, yet somehow that was not enough to counter the negative force within him.

But perhaps what it most importantly reminds us of is (3) the fact that mental illness continues to be misunderstood. Substantial advancements in the field of mental health care have only been made recently, and the realm of societal awareness remains severely lacking. Elad Nehorai, creator of the blog Pop Chassid, put it best in his reflection post:

“It is time we acknowledged that a disease in the brain is just as physical as a disease in the heart, lungs, or liver. The fact that it is more complicated, less understood, and only beginning to be studied, does not mean we can ignore this fact. In truth, it means the exact opposite: that mental health needs to be treated with urgency. That our society has to start treating its illnesses as every bit as deadly and malicious as other ailments. That research into these issues needs to be ramped up.”

Our previous blog post reflects just one example of the repercussions of lacking mental health awareness (in the case of that post, in the world of first responders). But evidence of similar situations abounds in many environments, ranging from school to the workplace to our homes. To quote from Elad’s piece again, “It is a sign of our times that we use the words, ‘Robin Williams killed himself’, in reputable news outlets.  That we mention, offhand, that he was suffering from depression.  That they are only tangentially connected.”

Needless to say, it is nothing short of tragic that these conversations don’t usually take place unless they are catalyzed by a person’s death or serious injury. Here’s hoping that this latest casualty of mental illness is among the last, and that Williams’s death will at least serve as a wake-up call to our society’s dormant sense of urgency to the plight of the mentally ill.



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