This week came the shocking news of the death of comedian and actor Robin Williams.
At the time of writing this, it was believed that he had taken his own life after suffering from severe depression.
I’m writing this less than 24 hours after Robin Williams’ death was announced, his passing has prompted shock and genuine upset from a huge number of people.
His death even prompted a rather beautiful and articulate comment from President Obama. I think there are probably two reasons why his death has caused such emotion.
First, people enjoyed his work. I’m old enough to remember him in Mork and Mindy and going to the pictures to see him as a teenager in Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets’ Society.
I think I heard for the first time, and fell in love with, Nowhere to Run from Martha & the Vandellas and Liar Liar by The Castaways as a result of Good Morning Vietnam. My kids love Mrs Doubtfire.
The second reason why people have outpoured their emotion is that it seems such a waste of life and talent.
At the age of 63, he was relatively young. A natural reaction could be that he had fame and fortune and everything to live for. What did he have to feel depressed about? Of course, it is not a rational thing to do. Depression is not rational.
I am blessed enough not to have been plagued with depression or mental health issues.
I can’t begin to understand the depths of despair that people must feel.
Winston Churchill suffered from depression. He said that the red boxes of ministerial activity and decisions kept him busy and active away from the “black dog” of depression.
However, you don’t have to be a famous Oscar-winning actor or celebrated Prime Minister to suffer from depression. It is estimated that one in four of people in the country will suffer from depression.
Depression doesn’t respect status, class or wealth. Mental health should be really thought about on a par with physical health.
There does, however, remain a stigma towards somebody who has mental health issues.
I have asthma. I don’t know why I have it – I don’t smoke, I’ve lived in warm homes all my life. I just have it. It’s one of those things. I have to live with it and I take medication – an inhaler – to deal with it.
It hasn’t stopped me doing anything. I don’t think anybody will judge me any differently because of that “confession”.
It would, however, be very different if I had confessed I suffered from depression. But we should really judge depression in the same way as asthma – it is an illness, often incredibly debilitating for sufferers, but life can be lived. It’s something that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.
There is also often a stigma for the person suffering from mental health issues regarding medication.
I’ve heard it said that if somebody had diabetes it would not be seen as particularly shameful to take insulin, but it is often seen as such if somebody is prescribed with anti-depressants.
In my role as the town’s MP, I’ve seen over the past few years a rise in people who are coming to me to tell me that they are suffering from mental health issues but don’t feel that they have anywhere to go. The fact is – there is somewhere to go.
There is always someone to listen to your concerns. The likes of Hartlepool Mind, Artrium in Park Road and the Samaritans all provide services in Hartlepool.
They are there to help. If you are suffering from depression, don’t feel that you’re on your own, because you’re not.
For many people the first and most difficult step will be deciding to ask for help and initially an approach to your GP is probably the best route to take as your GP can refer you to specialist services and support. Help is there.