Sixteen years ago, on my very first trip to the cinema at the tender age of three years old, I came across a man named Robin Williams. He played an eccentric professor with a strange green substance called “Flubber” and I was hooked. Throughout my life this wonderful man was a constant, whether it was as a housekeeper or a robot, a doctor or a genie. He brought laughter to my life at times when there was none. I can’t count the times I’ve played “Friend like Me” at full blast or watched Mrs Doubtfire to cheer myself up, and it worked every time.
It was a little after 1am when I discovered that this brilliant, shining star had taken his own life. I cried and cried for this poor man who, despite bringing joy to millions of people, in that moment at least, could find none within himself. I cried with grief and sorrow, but most of all, I cried with fear. I don’t pretend to know what personal struggles Robin was going through or what finally tipped him over the edge, but I know the feeling of utter hopelessness all too well.
I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety at the age of sixteen, mere months after my Grandad died. It was my first experience of death and I went to pieces. I lost a part of myself the day he died and sometimes I fear that it will never come back. Depression is just a word that people throw around so carelessly, but it should be treated with great respect, because it can kill. If someone is diagnosed with cancer there are treatments available, set plans and schedules to follow, and the outcome can be predicted with reasonable accuracy. But what if someone is diagnosed with depression? They’re told to “think positive” or “be happy.” That’s like telling a cancer patient to “think healthy.” It’s just not going to work, it’s insulting and it can often make the situation worse.
Depression should not be kept in the shadows. It needs to be treated like any other illness – raise awareness, talk about it, teach people to recognise the signs. For months I felt like I was in a pit so cavernous I could never claw myself out, and the more I tried the deeper I buried myself. I didn’t know I was suffering from depression, I didn’t even know what depression was! I am so lucky that my Mum recognised the signs and convinced me to get the help I needed.
Robin Williams had family, fame and fortune, but he also had demons just like so many others. His battle with depression was devoured by the media but never understood. While there are still people thinking “what has he got to be depressed about?” there is work to be done. I am not ashamed of my depression and neither should anyone else be.
The world is so lucky to have had someone like Robin Williams, who brought laughter to so many even when he couldn’t laugh himself. I will remember him for his spirit, his talent and his selfless nature. He may not have been able to save himself but he saved many, including me. I’m not sure I believe in heaven and hell but I hope that Robin is in a place where he can finally be at peace with himself.
Genie, you’re free.