Today we hear the news of the death of Robin Williams.  His career filled us all with joy, and in some cases he chose roles that portrayed men who brought hope to those who really needed it.  From the inspirational teacher at an exclusive boys prep school who nudges his young charges to think of life as something bigger than themselves in Dead Poet’s Society, to the innovative medical doctor who chose to see the whole person instead of symptoms to be managed in Patch Adams; he chose many roles that gave people a sense of hope.

Sadly, this was a hope that he himself had a hard time holding onto, because he suffered from clinical depression.  Perhaps in death his one last gift will be to shine a light on this illness that so many people misunderstand.

Most people never tell anyone about their depression diagnosis because it comes with such a stigma.  There is still so much misunderstanding that surrounds a diagnosis of depression.  So often people misunderstand what it means for a person who is depressed, thinking that it simply means that people are just feeling a little sad for a time.   Their friends can say something like ” just be happy, ” or “think happy thoughts” thinking they are helping.  If it were that easy, the depressed person wouldn’t be depressed, because the person suffering from depression certainly doesn’t want to feel bad all the time.

A person who suffers from clinical depression can have what to the world looks like a charmed life, but still feel as though they have a crushing sense of hopelessness and despair.  Thoughts of death and suicide can be a part of that hopelessness.  Depression messes with a person’s ability to think and reason in a rational matter because the brain chemistry is wrong.   With medication and therapy and changes in diet and exercise a person suffering from depression can live a more normal life, but for some it will always be a struggle.

If someone you know trusts you enough to tell you that he or she is suffering from depression, the most important thing you can do for them is to be a friend.  Listen, and be understanding of the limitations by which they are hampered because of their illness.  It might also help to encourage a friend to get some exercise, or eat healthy meals, both of which help in alleviating symptoms of depression, but a person. With depression might not have the motivation to to either on their own.    It might even help just to call to check in and talk.  It is easy for a depressed person of avoid contact with  other people just because it takes less energy to be alone.

If you think you or someone you know is showing signs of depressions, please seek help from a medical professional.  If there are thoughts of suicide seek immediate help.