If anyone ever needed irrefutable evidence that depression doesn’t discriminate, the death of Robin Williams is surely it.
When the news broke last week, you couldn’t move on twitter for people offering their condolences and the hashtag #depression littered every other tweet. Depression stopped being a hidden illness to be swept under the carpet and became something peoplecould feel confident talking about.
But this hasn’t always been the case. The word “depression” in itself is not a scary word- how many times have you heard someone, or even said yourself, “Oh I’m so depressed!” when what you really mean is “I’m disappointed that I forgot Tesco closes at 4pm on a Sunday”?
Depression has become an everyday word. Pre-fix it with the word “clinical”, however, or add suicide into the equation and you’ve got a whole different story.
I’m a registered mental health nurse and volunteer on a mental health helpline. At least once a week I ask a stranger “When you say you ‘feel like ending it’, do you mean suicide?” And yet, on a personal level it feels uncouth saying the ‘S’-word out loud.
In fact most people I know would be surprised to hear that my life was changed by suicide when I was 18. Just writing that sentence makes me feel like I’ve over-shared, I’ve been back over it again and again, trying to somehow make it more comfortable to write – and more comfortable for you to read.
Yet, if I told you I’d lost someone from cancer, would that be more palatable?
In our open society, with all the doors social media has opened and every topic under the sun being blogged about on a daily basis, suicide remains one of the last taboos. A subject that feels uncomfortable to bring up.
But open discussion is important. It makes it ok for people to ask for help, to express how they’re feeling and recognise that others feel the same.
By openly talking about his illness, Robin Williams has helped us take a huge step towards changing how society views depression and suicide. Even, perhaps, towards depression being recognised for the debilitating, involuntary, and sometimes terminal, illness that it is.