Robin Williams’ Death: Raising awareness about depression from those we wouldn’t expect

Robin Williams was found dead in his home (Paradise Cay, California) on August 11, 2014. He was 63 years old.
Robin Williams was found dead in his home (Paradise Cay, California) on August 11, 2014. He was 63 years old.

Darren Shaw tells Flock To The Crown his thoughts on the death of the movie star, Robin Williams and its link to depression.

Last week, Hollywood Actor, Robin Williams committed suicide at his home in Tiburon (Northern California). Further reports suggest his suicide as being linked with a number of issues such as drug use, a recent diagnosis of Parkinsons Disease and depression.

My experience as a psychologist and counsellor led me to want write about this as I have worked with people who have sought help from problems of a similar psychological nature.

Depression is a serious psychological illness that is characterised by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. There can be a loss of interest in daily activities, appetite or weight changes.

There is often a disruption in sleep, or increased irritability, loss of energy and negative thoughts of self, others and external situations.

The reported self-hanging of Williams is not uncommon for people who suffer from depression or as rare as many may believe.

There are two main types of depression that are known – Unipolar and Bi-polar. Unipolar is where the person becomes bleak at all times whereas bi-polar means the person tends to experience extreme highs and lows which are often uncontrollable.

The causes of depression vary- anything can trigger its onset and it can have a snowball effect on the individual that is experiencing depression as well as others around them. It’s a condition that can be imagined to some extent if you think about what it might feel like to see the world through a negative mind-set every single day.

Working with members of the public, I have met people who are considered to be below ‘clinically depressed’. The symptoms of depression are most common in people who have lost their jobs, had an unhappy childhood and even those who have lost loved ones.

Sometimes people report being depressed as a result of putting on ‘a front’ all the time, allowing the locus of control to be outside of them and gaining happiness only when stimulated from outside. They believe that they are unable to internally generate good feelings or perceive things in a positive light.

The person becomes highly charged and focused on negative thoughts that take them into a world that is illogical, albeit a negative perspective of society.

Williams’ situation is a unique one; his career was based on entertaining the masses – being an actor and stand-up comic would naturally lead him to maintain a sense of happiness in order to consistently deliver a great performance.

No matter where he goes, his wealth and ability to look after his family was based on his continued ability to please others irrespective of how he felt inside.

As much as the world might like to believe that he was more than a mere mortal, any reader of this article would crumble under such pressure, just as Williams eventually began to.

His addiction to cocaine and frequent attendance at rehab clinics is – potential – evidence that he believed he could not sustain his persona without additional substances.

On my current course of study, I have learnt that messing with one’s biological balance is an unpredictable game, which only trained professionals should engage in. Even then, the doctors don’t get it a hundred per cent right.

Williams, like so many others, became a chemistry experiment of his own doing – for us to be happy.

There is a lot of help available ranging from biological interventions, psychotherapy or a combination of both. A doctor may suggest changes in diet or daily habits as these can sometimes help re-adjust the influence of certain chemicals in a person’s brain and body.

If a person is able to engage in a discussion about their thoughts then evidence-based therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the psychological intervention of choice in the UK.

CBT works by changing the way a person thinks. A person suffering from depression is helped to focus their attention in a different way automatically altering the chemicals in their body and generating more of the chemicals that are associated with feeling more upbeat and resourceful.

Anti-depressant medication can have an effect on many, although it doesn’t work for everyone and the side effects may sometimes outweigh the benefits.

Many studies show that if you sustain your attention on negative thoughts for long enough, your brain and body will become used to being in that state and the person can end up being permanently melancholic.

Studies in positive psychology have shown that the reverse is also true, insomuch that the focus on positive thoughts will create a happier and resourceful state.

There is help out there, don’t suffer in silence.

Written by Darren Shaw  (President of the Birkbeck Psychological Society)

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