Like many of you, the apparent suicide of actor and comedian extraordinaire, Robin Williams on August 11, 2014, has rocked my spirit. The reports of his suffering from severe depression, however, is even more troubling because if it is true, then we’ve perhaps allowed this man to take us on a horrible roller coaster ride of laughs that had a secret compartment filled with agonizing pain.
For over 4 decades, we have looked to him to make us laugh – to take us out of our own temporary misery and give us medicine to heal our pain…if only for a moment. Whenever we heard he was releasing a movie or was going to appear on some talk show, we scampered to see what funny thing he was going to do to make us “not feel” – laugh – this time.
And we cannot help this because he set us up to do just that: look for him to make us laugh. But behind all of this laughter – on the part of both parties – was an authentic sadness – pangs like needles jabbing mercilessly into the heart – that soon became unbearable. He no longer wanted to make us laugh – his pain was too much. And unbeknownst to us, he made a decision to silence not only the pain, but the laughter. Hmmm.
Depression is a silent killer. It wears a mask of laughter or “I’m okay” on the outside to the world, but the truth is, it always reveals itself. Addiction is a band aid which attempts to cover up the root problem. Robin Williams was remarkable to me in that he was never afraid to talk about the band – his addictions. Yet, it was the depression that was not often addressed publicly, and it was the depression that caused him to end his brilliant life. Even the greatest funny man in the business could not bring himself to share this part of his life with us. Why? Because we still see mental illness – depression – as a thing to be kept from the world or as something one can get over if they just think positive.
I, as a writer, must find a way to continue to address this horrid roller coaster ride in my work. In my gut, I sense that it is in theatre and film that we can have an open and honest dialogue about the darkest issues that threatens the serenity of our existence – of our ability to live our lives to the fullest, happy and healthy, because the movie/theatre goer has paid to see/feel that visual truth.
My 13-year-old son asked me yesterday after he heard my husband and I talking about Robin, “Mom, why did he kill himself?” I had a moment that no parent wants to have when it comes to something as dark and sad as suicide: do I tell him to not worry about it or what I perceive to be the truth? My reply, “Because he probably thought it was the only way to stop hurting.” We simply cannot let this be any longer. The hurt – the pain – is all too real for people who suffer from depression. I should know: I tried to take my own life when I was 18 years old. Yes, depression is SO VERY real: clinical or environmental.
I challenge all artists in every field to create dialogue in your genre about suicide, depression, addictions, etc. We are the storytellers of our generation and right now, the world needs us to tell the stories. We need healing, and I am going to do my part (see below). We cannot let the deaths of our young children, teens and beloved friends – even if only on the screen – be in vain. Theirs is a cry for help, and I’m listening. Are you?
R.I.P., Robin Williams
Note: On September 1, producers of the anti-bullying and teen suicide film, “Memphis Sun,” will launch its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. If you want to play a role in educating and bringing awareness to suicide and bullying, then please consider supporting this film. I am proud to be the screenwriter for this very important story. To learn more about it, visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3864028.