One month and one day since prolific comedian Robin Williams committed suicide by asphyxiation, most of us have forgotten.
The news of his death sparked widespread mourning. People took to social media, recounting their favourite Williams movie scenes, wondering how a man with an innate talent for making others laugh could ever think to kill himself.
Several media outlets paid tribute to Williams — the New York Times, the Guardian, Rolling Stone magazine. Even U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement in tribute. On Aug. 24, the MTV Movie Awards paid tribute by displaying a series of eight pictures of Williams, notably happy.
Williams’ long history with depression was virtually disregarded.
Instead, his death became the focal point of public outcry. His life, in turn, was appropriated by the masses and transformed into something it wasn’t: a happy one.
In a statement, Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, encouraged the public to focus not on his death, “but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions,” and rightfully so. We ought to celebrate the lives of those who’ve passed — for their contributions to others during their brief stay on Earth.
But not paying due attention to Williams’ illness discounts not only his suffering, but also the suffering of others.
By celebrating his achievements alone — by remembering him for how his humour made us feel — we fail to celebrate Williams’ life, a vast majority of which was spent battling severe depression.
We not only turn his life into an empty shadow used to soothe our own disrupt at his death — we implicitly cast Williams’ depression as something not worth mentioning.
As a result, it’s swept under the rug and further ignored.
Efforts to reduce mental health stigma have been widespread over the past few years, but its presence remains evidently strong. So often, those who suffer from depression slink into a character to appease others, to avoid stigma, to avoid others thinking there’s anything wrong with them.
We ought to learn from Williams’ death in order to educate others about depression — not as something inherently negative, but in need of understanding, acceptance and assistance; not as something immediately detectable, but invasive and incapacitating.
As something that shouldn’t be kept hidden.
But in order to learn from it, we need to acknowledge it.
So often we hear about the importance of reducing stigma, but when faced with it, rarely do we follow through. In regards to Williams’ death, the vast majority of media consumers failed in this regard.
Vincent is one of the Journal’s Editors in Chief. He’s a fifth-year philosophy major.
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