The ignorance of illness


When someone famous dies it always causes a wave of public comment. When someone takes their own life it always causes a lack of belief or comprehension of how someone could do such a thing by those who fail to understand mental illness. So when someone famous takes their own life those comments of ignorance will always be hugely multiplied.

Robin Williams has been one of the most of the best loved actors, comedians and all-round entertainers in the world for the best part of four decades. His ability to make people laugh and cry in equal measure have seen him pack out arenas with his stand-up comedy and win Oscars. So, his death from an apparent suicide has been met with an immense amount of sorrow and grief from friends, family and millions who never met him.

It has also led to stuff like this.


This is just a snapshot of some of the ignorance surrounding depression and suicide. Fox News’ Shep Smith described Robin Williams as ‘a coward’ for his actions.

A coward!

I have mild depression. I am not suicidal, although the odd thought has flashed through my mind. However, if I describe my own symptoms and you then multiply them by a factor of 10, 50 or 100 then you may start to understand how people succumb to this awful illness.

Some days, weeks, or even months, everything is great. The world is vibrant, colours are bright, everyone is smiling and you are unstoppable. All is right with the world, all is right with you. You see the joy in the smallest things, you find hope everywhere and you love life and yourself.

Then one day, for no reason and with no warning, you wake up and…  You know immediately that something has changed and that there is no reason for it.

Let me repeat that. There. Is. No. Reason. For. It.

Suddenly, all that joy and hope you saw is replaced with a crushing feeling of hopelessness. All of those colours which stood out so brightly are dull greys and blacks. The smiles are gone and frowns, worries and tears seem to take their place around you.

And that feeling that you can do anything, be anyone, is gone. There is no feeling, no happiness, no confidence. Just a throbbing numbness interspersed with sorrow and pain.

And there’s a voice. It sounds like your voice, but it’s the depression talking. It tells you that you’re nobody. You’ll achieve nothing. Nobody likes you. You make everything worse. The world, your friends and your family would be better off without you.

And that voice doesn’t just speak in your head, it speaks throughout your whole being. You move slower, you feel tired, you don’t want to do anything, say anything, go anywhere or see anyone.

I am lucky. I have it mildly. I can overcome the urge to just stay, locked away from the world. I can, just about, recognise that voice for the liar it is. I can mask my desolation, either by acting normal or by zoning out and allowing myself to focus on single tasks to keep my mind busy. I can live with it.

But not everyone can. Imagine that it is so bad that you can’t fight it. You can’t physically do anything or interact with anyone. You feel so numb that you forget what it was ever like to feel. And you believe the voice. You believe that you are nothing, nobody, evil, worthless, a burden… and that to end everything is not only to end your own pain, but to free people from the pain that your very existence causes them.

Imagine that. Then tell me that you don’t understand how somebody can take their own life.

Depression is no respecter of class, talent, religion, race, gender, popularity or anything else. It’s a sickness which affects more people than you probably realise. And it kills. Yes, people take their own lives, but it’s the depression which kills them. It’s not cowardice. It’s not selfishness. It happens to people who, on the outside, have everything going for them.

Because it is an illness. An illness which kills.

Robin Williams was a wonderful actor and comedian. He brought joy to millions, including me.

But he was ill. And it beat him.

Rest in peace O Captain! My Captain!


2 thoughts on “The ignorance of illness

  1. Ossie

    How right you are if only people thought before opening there mouths, I have been suffering from depression on/ off for about 14 yrs, and some people have said things like what’s he got to be depressed about, if only they could experience it they would know how awfull it is.

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