Anne Lamott, who has written extensively about her own struggles with mental health challenges, issued this call to action in response to the heartbreaking news of Robin Williams death:
"If you have a genetic predisposition towards mental problems and addiction, as Robin and I did, life here feels like you were just left off here one day, with no instruction manual, and no idea of what you were supposed to do; how to fit in; how to find a day's relief from the anxiety, how to keep your beloved alive; how to stay one step ahead of abyss. We think in the aftermath of Robin's death that there will be consciousness raising about mental health, but I doubt it. The shock and awe will pass, like it did after Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death. Unless...unless we take action."
It is time for ACTION!
In addition to deep sadness, my response to this devastating news was intense outrage. Outrage as it felt like just yesterday that I wrote a piece about the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman with too many chilling similarities to Williams' death.
When a beloved person with the public affection of millions and every resource in the world loses the fight, we must not be paralyzed by our grief and emotion. Right now, we grieve Robin Williams' death -- a huge loss to the world -- but the problem is even larger than the loss of such an exceptional man.
Around 450 million people worldwide suffer from some form of brain disorder, and one in four people meet criteria at some point in their life. How can we possibly sit complacently around these statistics? Where is the brain research? The funding? The cures? What are we all doing to take action?
It is time for an AWAKENING!
I would not be able to function in my job as a mental health activist if I didn't witness hope and change everyday. As I write this blog, I am sitting in a hotel in New Haven where I am about to attend a training with Marc Brackett of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Revolutionary work is happening here to teach children and the adults who work with them about emotional learning. Starting with children and bringing education to our emotional health as we do with other aspects of our health ( nutrition, sex, drugs and alcohol) is a crucial step in our fight to end this public health crisis.
Another step that we need to take is around shame and being open about mental health. There are cultural shifts happening here as well and the response of the media and social media to the devastating news this week has demonstrated that progress with the vigilant focus on mental health. Michael Angelakos, the lead singer of Passion Pit is a powerful role model with his brave transparency around his mental health challenges. Two years ago I attended an event where he spoke about living with bipolar disorder. There were over 500 people in the room and he spared no detail or emotion. He cried. He talked about his treatment including electro-convulsive therapy, and how he never hides the truth about his illness from his fans. This ability to be public with millions of people is what it takes to continue to crack this code of secrecy that causes these conditions to worsen.
Robin Williams was also open about his history of addiction and shared that he felt "shameful" about this over the years. He told The Guardian in 2010, "You do stuff that causes disgust, and that's hard to recover from. You can say, 'I forgive you' and all that stuff, but it's not the same as recovering from it." Speaking up and releasing the shame surrounding mental illness is key to creating a culture of true help and healing.
In honor of all of the gifts that Robin Williams shared with the world, let's create an awakening and take action. Lets take a bold step to end the secrecy around these issues. Let's share the truth about ourselves, no matter how scary, with each other. The comedian, Chris Gethard's response to this tragedy was a wake up call when he immediately posted "The face of my mental illness" his beautiful and raw blog with a photo of him in one of his darkest moments. There is tremendous power when we can stand in the truth and connect in our vulnerability which begins to extinguish the toxic effects of isolation.
I have a hunch that Robin Williams would be smiling on us all if we could add to our perfunctory "How are you?" a real and deeper question like, "What's the face of your mental health today?"
Thank you for your light, our dear Captain, and thank you for doing what you could to be honest with us about your struggles with the darkness within. We honor you, we thank you, we love you.