As we absorb the devastating loss of comic icon Robin Williams to suicide, we all quite naturally feel the need to remember his life and celebrate his incredible legacy.
But while we respectfully pay tribute to the memory of the tremendously talented man who made us laugh and smile for well over four decades, similarly in the days and weeks to come, we should also and perhaps duly pay closer attention to the very issue at the core of this tragedy, namely: DEPRESSION.
Unfortunately in Hollywood we hear stories like this all time -- it wasn't that long ago Philipp Seymour Hoffman's death from an apparent heroin overdose created a total media blitz and monopolized all news coverage. The same is true again with this week's breaking news of Williams's suicide.
We're basking in a culture that is not only obsessed with celebrities but even more so with celebrity death. And predictably the media is unsettlingly always giving these stories the same type of coverage, which mostly boils down to aggrandizing the life and work of said-late celebrity for the hype and the ratings.
We're fed hours of "remembering so and so" segments and special tear-jerking biographical programs infested with useless interviews of other celebrities who more often than not knew the deceased for a minute or two.
Clearly I'm being overly sarcastic and admittedly exaggerating but the point I'm trying to make is that perhaps now is the time to turn the clock around and for once not miss the boat.
Granted it is tricky to sensibly talk about depression when it comes to our dear Hollywood clique. After all what could these celebrities possibly be depressed about when they have all the fame, adulation, material possessions and money in the world?
But depression is a serious mental disease that doesn't discriminate on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity, social standing or tax-bracket status.
The circumstances surrounding Williams' death are no laughing matter and the media should keep in mind how coverage can impact positively and/or nefariously others in the same ailing predicament as Williams. The actor's death should be a springboard for opening up the dialogue on what depression is really all about.
Let's use this tragedy as an opportunity to shed light on this epidemic in a productive way to help people not only understand it better, but also learn the warning sings and be cognizant of the tools and resources available to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Doing my part, I felt urgently compelled to conduct a brief interview with my dear friend Billie Myers who is not only an outspoken authority on the matter, but as well a victim of the disease.
Quick side bar: If the name Billie Myers sounds familiar to you that's because she's the voice and prodigiously talented British singer/songwriter behind the 1990s smash hit "Kiss The Rain."
But this interview is not about Billie the celebrity, but rather about the incredible woman who has been battling the disease of depression for almost all her life and has courted death on more than one occasions.
Who else could give us a look into this insidious mental illness with such clear-eyed, uncensored perspective than someone who knows too well the wages of disconnecting from life and detaching from reality?
As someone who is battling the disease of depression and has been publicly outspoken about it, what was your reaction to Robin Williams' tragic passing of a suspected suicide?
I thought it was really sad. Not just because he was a great comic because also because depression is such a terrible disease that is underrated on every level in terms how devastating it truly is. It's another unnecessary loss.
What do you mean by "underrated"?
A brain disorder does not merit in the public eye the same importance as perhaps cancer or diabetes. There's been a lovely outpouring but I have to say that society should have the same reaction when a sixteen year old commits suicide because it is exactly the same loss. But people just react differently when a celebrity is involved. Understandably there's sort of a shame attached to depression -- people don't want to talk about it, the guilt that's left behind. Depression by definition is incredibly insidious.
It's not uncommon in Hollywood to hear stories about celebrities dying from accidental drug overdose and/or suicide. Do you think generally speaking, we have a tendency to gravitate more towards "addiction" issues than depression?
Yes absolutely. Even on my own Facebook page there was a woman who made the comment about the fact that Robin Williams' problems were more of an addiction nature than "depression" per say. And the fact that people find that it's acceptable for them to pass judgment on how somebody who is in the throws of a depression may or may not cope to get through the day is really ignorant.
We live in such an uneducated world.
Zooming in on the very nature of the entertainment industry and society's celebrity-centric culture, do you think we (the public) have become jaded about these mental health issues especially when it comes to high-profile figures because we sort of expect it from them?
I think people think they're rich, they're famous, they're this, they're that, of course they have addiction issues but the truth of it is if you look a little deeper beyond that and you ask yourself what type of person wants to be a performer quite frequently it boils down to people who are uncomfortable in their own skin.
A lot of actors when you meet them one-on-one are innately insecure and painfully shy. In fact they're most comfortable when they are pretending to be someone else.
Do you think we've become desensitized because of the sensationalized media coverage that glamorizes the disease?
Addiction and depression are two very different things. One can be the fall out for the other and obviously a side effect of the other. But yes we as a society have become desensitized because celebrity elicits fantasy and envy.
It's the curse and the blessing -- how our society finds it glamorous to die young; to be heroin-chic. We glamorize drug-induced skinniness and ridiculous behavior then we penalized people when they fall. There's no just balance.
In your opinion, does the celebrity factor blur the lines between the disease of depression and the (temporary) mood of being depressed? How do we make the distinction between one and the other?
That has everything to do with education. We can't keep hiding under the carpet a disorder, a disease, an illness that is alarmingly increasing in our society and killing people.
Looking at the way most media outlets have been covering the issue of depression with regards to Williams' death, it seems they are shying away from digging deeper into the subject of mental disorder(s). Why is the stigma of mental health problems persisting in our culture?
The media has to take responsibility. First of all how can we use the term "someone successfully committed suicide"? Really, how can someone "successfully" commit suicide? What king of message are we sending?
Nobody wants to take the time to look at the more systemic nature of why people might be falling more prone to depression; and looking at why people might be going undiagnosed for years.
In your opinion what is the #1 most common misconception about this epidemic of depression?
That it's optional. People think depression is something you can opt out of.
Robin Williams was clearly very open about his struggle with addiction and his battle with depression. Why do you think his suicide, although very much shocking news came as such surprise?
I think people are surprised that it happened to him. That, again, shows a distinct ignorance about the nature of the disease. It really shows how little understanding society has of the illness. There's a great thought about depression and I am paraphrasing it but it says: Depression is like standing in an ocean and not feeling the water. It doesn't matter how much you are loved if you don't recognize it.
How important is the role of one's friends & family in keeping a certain level of awareness and involvement? Are there red flags others can pick up on?
The people you surround yourself with are mega important. But they also have to be educated. There's a very fine line, and many books, on the nature of co-dependency as it relates to depression. Bottom line is depression distorts you perception of reality and that's not something you can hold someone else responsible for.
What do you think is the right way to cover this story and what should we learn from this tragedy?
I think you have to cover the story with empathy, and certainly in a way that recognizes the tragedy that is depression and in a way that will hopefully prevent a next tragedy from happening - not glorify it, not exploit it but deal respectfully with it. I would like to think that people will turn it into a life lesson that they look at their best friend, partner, husband or wife, and they have that extra patience or they recognize a situation for what it is and persuade that person to get help or somebody who's in the position where they may be the victim of depression recognizes something within themselves and put their hands up.
We should learn that depression is not selective. It absolutely knows no boundaries.
That's what makes it very dangerous.
And hopefully we've learned that we need to create a much more open dialogue about the disorder with the general public.
With all the attention focused on this tragic news of a life lost to suicide, it is important to remember that suicide is preventable.