By Randi Crawford
How can I not talk about Robin Williams’ death? Like most of you, when I learned about his death/suicide, I was saddened beyond words. It felt like losing a neighbor. I can’t say that I was shocked, because it seems like most funny people are hiding a deep sadness. Lots of comedians have said that laughter is cheaper than therapy. But from everything I’ve read and seen about his life, the people who knew him best loved his heart.
The story of Robin Williams’s suicide has made such a huge impact on all of us. First, he was truly one of the most incredible talents of our time, and I don’t just say that because he is no longer with us. His “Aladdin” character is better than any other Disney character I’ve ever seen, mainly because of his outrageous monologues. I equally love his more serious roles, like in “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Dead Poets Society.” Who can forget his famous words, “O Captain, my Captain,” or “Carpe Diem”?
When I graduated from Villanova, he performed. He wasn’t the keynote speaker, he was actually doing his stand-up routine, and boy, was he racy. Trust me, being at a Catholic school with nuns and priests, Robin Williams’ stand-up routine was saucy — and we all loved it.
One of the reasons that I can’t get his death off my mind is because his suicide tells me how little we really know about depression and mental illness. When someone as successful as Robin Williams can’t see light at the end of the tunnel, we’ve got a real problem. This isn’t about money, fame, or adoration. This is something so much deeper and darker that it’s almost untouchable. Unless you have it, you probably can’t empathize or understand it. I know I sure don’t.
I realize that there’s a stigma when you tell someone that there is something wrong with your brain, but this paradigm
to change. Isn’t it strange that when you tell someone about any physical ailment you have, they rush to help you find the right doctor? But we don’t want to tell people that we have anything wrong with our brain because we fear that they will label us as “crazy.” When I ran a healthcare company focused on menopausal women, I did a lot of research and learned that not too long ago “menopausal” women were institutionalized because people labeled them as crazy. Can you imagine that happening today? When you hit menopause, your hormones definitely impact you physically and psychologically, but trust me, you aren’t crazy.
Let’s face it, we all have that image of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Nurse Ratched etched into our brains. Remember when Nurse Ratched would administer the mind-numbing medicine to all the loons, and when that didn’t work, they got electric shock treatment? Her famous quote, “If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don’t think that he would like it.” That’s some scary stuff. It reminds me of what the movie “Jaws” did to people. It made us all afraid to get back in the ocean. So when you’re really far out in the water, you hear that music in your head. Na-Na ... Na-Na ... nanananananana until you speed- swim right back to shore. We can thank Steven Spielberg for that phobia.
Mental illness and severe depression are deep, dark and possibly deadly. They are probably a lifelong battle that needs constant support and small gestures of love and caring every day. I wish we had the answers, but I believe we have a long way to go before we truly understand this disease.
And for the love of God, stop looking at mental illness and picturing Jack Nicholson. You are better than that.
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