Skip to main content

Why Robin Williams lost to depression

By Michael Friedman
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/11/showbiz/robin-williams-dead/index.html'>Robin Williams</a> was honored during this year's Emmy telecast with a tribute led by friend Billy Crystal, who hosted the "Comic Relief" benefits with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg (seen here in 1986). Williams died August 11 at age 63. Click through to see moments from the beloved actor's remarkable life. Robin Williams was honored during this year's Emmy telecast with a tribute led by friend Billy Crystal, who hosted the "Comic Relief" benefits with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg (seen here in 1986). Williams died August 11 at age 63. Click through to see moments from the beloved actor's remarkable life.
HIDE CAPTION
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Robin Williams, who was battling severe depression, committed suicide
  • Michael Friedman: Depression does not discriminate and shows no mercy
  • He says the stigma of depression needs to be overcome in our society
  • Friedman: Integrating mental health screening in primary care would help

Editor's note: Michael Friedman is a clinical psychologist and a member of EHE International's Medical Advisory Board. Follow him on Twitter: @DrMikeFriedman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The tragic death of Robin Williams has once again taught us a bitter lesson: Depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.

Depression does not care how wonderful your life is or how many people you've touched. Williams seemed to have it all: He was adored by fans, loved by family and friends and had fame and fortune.

But it didn't matter, because someone suffering severe depression cannot feel the joy and satisfaction that comes with even the best things in life. As a society, we need to hear these collective cries for help and take depression seriously as a public health issue.

Robin Williams and the dark side of comedy

Michael Friedman
Michael Friedman

Williams is not the first and won't be the last celebrity to have struggled with depression or mental disorder. Jon Hamm, Winona Ryder, Owen Wilson and many others have all made the point that depression can hit anyone at any time for any reason. Kurt Cobain suffered from bipolar disorder before his suicide. L'Wren Scott was rumored to be depressed before she hung herself.

The World Health Organization estimates 350 million people worldwide suffer from some form of depression.

When mental illness affects your family

Depression is characterized by intense and prolonged sadness and/or anhedonia (loss of pleasure). Symptoms including low energy, loss of concentration, sleep and eating disturbance and feelings of guilt and worthlessness can accompany depression. It is not exclusively an adult disorder. It can begin in childhood or adolescence and last throughout life with possible relapses.

Some people can suffer major depression, others mild. There's also bipolar disorder, which is characterized by manic episodes and depressive episodes.

Opinion: Robin Williams and depression: We all wear a mask

The pain behind Robin Williams' punchlines
Robin Williams inner battles

Depression is one of the leading causes of loss of productivity and disability. It's devastating on relationships. Depressed individuals will often experience sadness and be unable to experience pleasure, making it difficult to feel or express love toward others. There is also evidence suggesting that depression may be linked to chronic diseases. The worse is that depression is one of the most consistent risk factors for suicide.

So what can be done?

The field is still evolving. In more severe or chronic cases, the combination of medication and psychotherapy has shown to be particularly potent. There are ways for treatment to be cost-effective.

But there are barriers that need to be overcome to adequately address depression. First and foremost, the stigma of depression is making us sicker. From an early age, children describe each other as "crazy" or "weird." This can often result in teasing and bullying for children with mental health issues, and social distancing from adults. As a result, individuals struggling with depression will often feel worse as a result of this mistreatment and be less likely to seek care.

Going public with depression

Eradicating the stigma of mental illness must be a public health priority. For years, groups such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill have fought to reduce stigma. Those on the front lines of working with people with mental illness should receive adequate education and support to manage bias.

Integrating mental health screening in primary care settings is another important step, as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has determined that this improves outcomes. Furthermore, the Affordable Care Act of 2013 expanded upon the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, providing more possibility that mental health conditions will be covered at similar rates to physical health conditions.

Opinion: Suicide doesn't set you free

As we break down barriers and improve understanding of depression, we will hopefully reduce the number of tragedies. We shouldn't have to lose some of our brightest lights like Robin Williams.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT