Robin Williams, engaged in the business of happiness, died tragically of sadness. His death captured something distinctive about the nature of a man’s engagement with the world. While the world chortled at Williams’ rapid fire verbal ballet of parody, insight and inventiveness he crumbled inside, day by day, with a pain that few could quite sense or fathom.
It is said that he was once asked what he had anything to be depressed about? History has shown us with examples such as Vincent van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, Sylvia Plath that talent, fame or wealth are not immune to the disease.
Every forty seconds someone, somewhere in the world, commits suicide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, and it is among the three leading causes of death among the 15 to 44 age categories in some countries.
I recall a conversation I had a few years ago at a dinner party, when someone mentioned that depression was a rich man’s disease and quoted a WHO study indicating that rich countries like the United States and France had a higher incidence of depression than less affluent countries.
As I delved deeper into the same study, I found that the poorer respondents in these rich nations tended to have double the risk of major depression as compared to the richest respondents. It just might be the case that depression is reported and taken more seriously in these well funded countries.
Many of us have been touched by a wave or two of utter and debilitating grief at some point in our lives and getting out of that free-fall state required some emotional fluency and support. And there are some of us who encounter this wave more frequently than others, in degrees more severe than the last.
The triggers might run the gamut from trivial to serious, leading to a sense of loneliness: a facebook post, losing a friend or loved one, losing a job or striving for that elusive sense of perfection.
The perceived sense of hopelessness can very quickly become all pervasive and debilitating. And the cover up continues. We put our happy faces forward and charge on, dissembling and hiding the palpable signs of our inner dystopia.
Robin Williams’ death showed us, again, that we are all vulnerable. It doesn’t matter what country we come from or whether we’ve achieved a level of success that the world deems unsurpassable.
Loneliness is painful.