The passing of Robin Williams shocked everyone in the country. One of the more beloved people of Hollywood, everyone knows who he is and everyone knows a lot of his work. My favorite of his was the movie What Dreams May Come, a powerful film about a man who, after dying and leaving his wife alone, tries to save his her from an eternity of hell after she commits suicide. The irony isn’t lost to me. Neither is the real-life tragedy.
My first reaction to his death was of concern it would overshadow the burgeoning public awareness of the persecution of Christians in Iraq. As details emerge, however, it has become obvious that this is an opportunity for the general public to understand things about depression and suicide that have long been relegated to a few trite comments. You’ve heard them, no doubt, and maybe even said them.
To the new mother who can’t explain the battle inside herself: “Can’t you just snap out of it?”
To sound smart in front of a group of people: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
To the actor who commits suicide: “A very selfish act.”
There’s been a whole lot for people to say about the suicide and the fact that he has struggled with depression much of his life. He’s certainly not the first public figure to take his own life, but he is the one that makes everyone wonder. How can the funniest man on earth suffer from depression?
In real depression (not the casual use of the word “depressed,” as though someone posted on Facebook that they missed out on tickets to a concert coming to town), there is a complexity in the mind that is daunting for even the most experienced therapist. For those suffering from the depression, the cause is not often clear, let alone a solution. And, often, those suffering from the condition only consider the cause or hope for a solution in the early stages. In chronic cases – which I would guess is the majority – the cause and solution are out of grasp. All that becomes real is the loss of color and vibrancy and joy. That’s the normal.
So you learn to function in that. And it seems strange that someone with so much joy, money, or comedic talent could suffer from depression. But to many who struggle with this, the smiles on their faces, the curve of happiness in their eye, the slight sounds of joy in a voice…they are a deceit. A way to cope with the depression, a way to avoid detection.
As Christians, we can find it easy to say that the answer is Jesus and “I’ll pray for you,” then hurry along to the grocery store for milk and bread. But the answer isn’t so simple. God works miracles, yes, but He also wants us to perform the hard task of helping people. Really helping people. It’s just one reason why relationships are so vital, so critical, and why we who are healthy have a responsibility to provide safety for others in our relationships.
I can tell you that from experience, that if I had safety in relationships, my own horrible descent would have been much different. Sometimes just sharing the burden in total safety and honesty is the beginning of healing. Someone to help point you where you need to go, or simply to be a precipice to stop falling. But we won’t come to you if we don’t feel safe. And you won’t be able to spot any change unless you are looking really closely. The way a caring brother or sister looks at another brother or sister.
So, yes, I think depression is our responsibility. It requires us to venture away from the safety of trite catchphrases. It requires us to really pay attention to our friends and family. And if called upon, it can be a difficult task to walk with someone through their suffering. But so what? Are we called to nothing less? Didn’t Jesus Christ do something even greater for us, asking little in return?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:37-40 HCSB)
Image from robinwilliams.com.