By Tyler Mitchell
It was almost a month ago on a Monday evening that I sat happily in my living room, my feet kicked up on the ottoman, a warm bowl of chicken alfredo in my lap, my eyes glued to the 50-inch television screened as I took in the day’s news from CNN. I was absolutely exhausted, having worked a long day, my body growing heavier with fatigue as I took each bite into my dinner.
But suddenly my attention was spiked. I stopped all movement, staring at the television mid chew as I read the marquee across the bottom of the screen. The newscaster’s disposition seemed to shift, appearing both shocked and unraveled by the news he would soon have to share.
“This just in,” he said, his tone complacent yet alert, though the look behind his eyes spoke otherwise. “Actor and beloved comedian Robin Williams has died at the age of 63. More details to come…”
I instantly yelled at my father in the next room, sharing the horrendous news with him. He joined me in the living room, sitting at the edge of the sectional, both of us transfixed, our attention stolen.
We remained motionless as said details came forward. We soon learned that Robin Williams had not died of a horrible accident such as a heart attack or a stroke, an ailment that one would expect to end the life of a 63-year-old man. No, according to the press, he had died of an apparent suicide.
And it was upon this discovery that I felt my heart sink. Not only had this talented, amazing actor who had given so much joy to my childhood died, but it was his own choice. How, I wondered, could such a decision be justified? How could a man who was so gifted, so spectacularly wonderful at bringing a variety of different characters to life end his own life?
Depression, I realized, was the answer.
I myself, at the age of 22, suffer from depression. I use this in the present tense because I firmly believe that I will always battle with depression. Like alcoholism, I believe it is something that can only be controlled, never completely eliminated from one’s life. If the correct circumstances are present, I can feel depressed again.
Depression is, without a doubt, something that cannot be understood until you’ve suffered from it. It is the worst feeling I have ever experienced. It is as if someone has stolen all the color from your life; everything, whether it is your family, friends, or the profession you love, become absolutely impertinent in the face of depression. For me, I lose my appetite, my desire to communicate with others, and most unfortunately my ability to think rationally.
In the moment, life seems like an inescapable situation. It is not a gift, but rather a problem to be solved. In that moment, to end one’s life holds a certain appeal that, upon retrospect, is overwhelmingly scary. Aside from sleeping, to die seems to be the most logical, most long term solution to a tortuous problem.
So during the days following Robin William’s suicide, I noticed a number of my Facebook friends making the expected comments. My own father, who is very much aware of my struggle with depression, even told me, “Suicide just seems like the cowardly thing to do.”
And for some, perhaps it is. But for others, it’s not cowardly. Depression, just like heart disease or diabetes, is an illness that affects many; in fact, according to the CDC, nearly 1 in 10 U.S. adults suffer from depression. The mistake that many people make is thinking that one can simply flip a switch, that one can just decide to be happy and see the beauty in his or her own life. But this is impossible.
It is, however, possible to get help. As I sit here now, writing this article, I am happy. Each morning I wake up and take a pill, an antidepressant that was prescribed to me almost a year ago. Although it has certainly helped, I also had to change many aspects of my life before I could feel happy again.
Robin Williams, unfortunately, made a different decision. But we cannot regard him as a coward because, in reality, he is far from it. Suicide is indeed a decision, but it is one that is made in a moment of despair, in a moment of such self-loathing that to leave this earth is not only an end to one’s own personal suffering, but to also end the suffering of others as a result of your existence.
Robin Williams lost his battle to depression, but he would want others to keep fighting. You can tame depression, but the first step is asking for help. Talk to someone today; your best friend, your parent, or a professor. The second you talk about your suffering, you’re no longer alone.
If you feel so sad that you might consider suicide, please visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-TALK.