Friday, August 15, 2014

On Robin Williams and Depression

I tried to come up with a better title for this blog post, something smart maybe even witty.  I failed.  This post is simply some thoughts I have had this week on Robin Williams and Depression.  Nothing more and nothing less; so probably the most honest title is the simplest.

My favorite Robin Williams interview was when he was on Inside the Actor's Studio.  Robin was so hilarious that one person from the audience actually had to be taken to the hospital.  She apparently laughed so hard she got a hernia.  

However, when I watched the episode, I remember thinking wow, he just made us laugh for two hours but revealed extremely little about himself.  The interview was longer than the episode.  Apparently they cut down what was a four of five hour interview into two hours.  They couldn't get it down to the normal one hour.   So he managed for hours to keep people laughing and rarely revealed anything about himself.  I guess the humor was his was of hiding the pain.  Often with depression or any other mental illness, as a person's ability to make healthy choices decreases their ability to hide the illness increases.  

There have been a lot of posts on social media encouraging people to get help if they need it.  I even made such a post myself.  But there is still a lot of stigma about getting help.  I know it exists because it stopped me from getting help for a long time.  

For about 3 quarters of the last year I have been seeing a therapist.  Beyond my Senior Warden and Bishop, I have told very few people in my congregation or diocese.  I haven't told people partly because I didn't want their pity or their worry.  Mainly, however, I was concerned about how it would effect my ability to lead.  Would people trust a priest that was being treated for mental illness?  (I guess we'll find out now.) But I decided to share this because the stigma needs to be removed, and it will only be removed with greater understanding of mental illness.  Mental illness is a medical problem.  For me to lead my congregation I need to be healthy, and it is responsibility of leadership for me to take care of myself.  I try to eat right and exercise to maintain my physical health, and when I am physically ill I see a doctor.  Mental health is no different.  I have a responsibility to maintain my mental health so that I can be the best priest, husband, dad, citizen, blogger, preacher, composer, leader and so forth that I can be.  So, just as I go to a doctor when I have the flu, I go to a doctor for my depression and anxiety too.  

The rub though is that it easier to know I need to see a doctor when I have the flu.  When the mind is the diseased organ its harder.  That's where we start having a responsibility to care for each other, to avoid denial, and to not be fooled by evasive humor.  

I encourage us all to learn more about mental illness.  I encourage us all to be vigilant in caring for our friends and family learning to look beyond the coping mechanisms so we can address the real problems. And if you need help, if you are making a plan or setting a date to harm yourself or others, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.  You are not alone.