It still amazes me how many people do not ‘get’ depression.

When my alarm went off at 4:25am I noticed a plethora of night-time notifications atop my mobile home-screen. One was a text message from my mate Stevie, it simply said ‘Robin Williams’. I assumed it had been sent to me by mistake, that it was meant for someone else. But at that time of the morning I’ve got to zoom around, if I’m lucky I might get to make a cuppa, have something to munch, jump in a bath, get dressed and sprint to the bus stop. If I miss my specific bus, I’m pretty screwed for getting into work on time save for calling a taxi.

Just past 5am I was on the bus to work and as I always do, I put on my headphones and dug out my mobile to see what’s been ‘happening’. Opening Facebook I was given an instantaneous explanation for Stevie’s midnight message. I knew Nicholas would be asleep but I decided to let him know:

“Sorry to wake you… Robin Williams is dead.”

We both love “One Hour Photo” and “Insomnia”. Although mostly known and remembered for his zany, energetic roles, these two films were his standouts for us. You know, those two films were released in the same year. Both showed Williams playing lonely, creepy, disturbed, intently serious characters, a world, no, universe apart from his days as ‘Mork’ in the late-seventies. But by hell he played those two roles so, so well. Scarily well. I don’t need to pile on the hyperbole, but he was an exceptionally adaptable man. He could play many different roles exceptionally well.

I’d read preliminary news reports and the word ‘suicide’ had come up a few times. I was pretty aware of Robin Williams’ demons, more than once he had publicly acknowledged them, even more often he’d use them as fodder for his stand-up material. Nevertheless, you always assume that those suffering behind the mask will battle through. That’s the trouble with masks, sometimes they can be difficult to separate from the person behind them so much so that others might not ever realise that what they see on the surface is not what’s present behind the façade.

When my therapist recently posed me the question: “Am I seeing ‘the act’, or am I seeing the real you?” I wasn’t entirely sure what the correct answer was. That the ‘act’ had become such an intrinsic part of my behaviour that even I wasn’t sure what was showing on the ‘outside’ is a testament to how difficult it can be for others to ever be aware of what’s going on inside of anyone that can ‘put on a face’.

Later in the day, when I finished my shift at work, I stumbled a into a conversation about that morning’s celebrity death.

“He’s stupid, why would you kill yourself? He had tons of money.”

That there is a line of speech actually said by a real, breathing person. A person living in this day and age, in a developed country where mental health and depression SHOULD be, by now, well known as 1) real and 2) a real fucking problem.

I was livid at such a brazen show of ignorance, but I kept my cool and continued the conversation with the more sensible of the two people present.

“He was bipolar.” Straight away, this other person knew what that meant and how it related to the tragic news that morning.

But this sort of stupid doesn’t just happen at ground level. I’d heard earlier that a news anchor on the Fox network referred to Williams as ‘such a coward’. Suicide is not ‘the easy way out’. It’s not ‘coward’s choice’. Suicide is a horrid event that happens because something in someone’s psyche tells them “There are no other options.” That those you care about will “be better off without you.”

Now, anyone with a reasonably clear frame of mind will know that even at the worst of times, there are options, that your loved ones and those who care about you will not better off without you.

But for someone in the utter depths of a depressive phase (I stress this word ‘phase’ as regardless of length they are phases and in many cases, with the right help, support and/or time, they will pass) their personal ‘logic’ is one of complete bleakness. And believe me, to that person, there IS nothing more. Others’ lives WILL be better. There IS nothing to live for.

THAT is the depths and despair of depression.

For many, depression isn’t something that happens for any given reason that falls into the realms of understandable for many:

Pet dies, you feel upset.
Lose your job, you feel worried and despaired.
Lose a family member, you cry for days.

These are normal reactions and feelings to things that affect all of us.

Go to sleep feeling on top of the world. Wake up and find yourself devoid of energy and motivation with no drive to do the things you simply have to perform to ‘function’ on the most basic of levels (eat, drink, wash, communicate). And worst of all, you’re not sure just why you feel this way.

THAT is depression.

Having so much money in your bank account that you never need to work again will NOT fix that. Being told to ‘man up’ or asked ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ or being told to ponder upon ‘how bad others have it’ will NOT help that.

But some care, understanding, patience and tact is a start.

That is the message anyone reading this should take away with them.

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