Robin Williams’ Life Is A Stark Reminder Anyone Can Be Vulnerable To Depression
It has now been three years since the world said a sorrowful goodbye to a man that was loved by all, Robin Williams.
On August 11, 2014, the world was shocked when reports came flooding in that Williams had taken his own life at his home in California at the age of 63.
His tragic death affected many and three years on, it’s still as raw as ever.
Williams was a uniquely talented actor and comedian, able to turn his hand to almost anything.
Quick witted and with wild energy, he was a brilliant mimic and improviser, quickly making a name for himself on the stand-up comedy circuit in his twenties.
On the screen he was able to play anyone from the faux Scottish nanny Mrs Doubtfire to a camp shape-shifting genie in Disney’s Aladdin and even a cold blooded murderer in Insomnia.
What also made Williams special was that people of all ages loved him. He catered for all, meaning that as his audience grew they could discover more and more of the genius he had to offer.
For instance, my first introduction to Williams was my parents continually sticking on the VHS tape of Flubber for me and my younger sister to giggle at.
I quickly fell in love with his wacky bespectacled Professor and it wasn’t long before I became enamoured with his cross-dressing nanny and magical genie too.
As I grew up I began to watch his more serious films such as One Hour Photo and Good Will Hunting, and soon realised he was far more than just a chirpy children’s performer.
Although there are many to choose from, my favourite role Williams took on was armed forces radio DJ Adrian Cronauer in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam.
Not only did this role earn Williams his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, but it also showcased his wonderful ability to ad-lib as well as his talent for ridiculous voices.
Although Williams shined as an actor, he was most at home on the stage performing stand-up comedy routines that regularly left audiences in hysterics.
Just out of drama school Williams moved to San Francisco where he worked in restaurants by day and by night he tackled the tricky comedy circuit before getting his lucky break with his TV appearance on Happy Days.
Throughout his busy career Williams always returned to the live stand-up comedy circuit and would often turn up unannounced at clubs desperate to get on stage and make people laugh.
But, although he was known for his cheery public persona and natural ability to make people laugh, behind the scenes he was a man in turmoil.
Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand why a seemingly happy person would – or indeed could -suffer from mental health problems such as depression, yet it was an illness that plagued him until his tragic death.
According to a study conducted by Oxford University, which used data gathered from more than 500 comedians, comics are more likely to suffer from mental health illnesses, especially anxiety and depression.
It’s suggested this is because comedians may be more disposed to ‘high levels of psychotic personality traits’ that can lead to these problems.
But are comedians drawn to stand-up as therapy or is it the job itself that causes these problems?
Williams was bullied as a child for being overweight and often avoided this by spending time alone at home, until he realised that by making other children laugh he could gain respect from his peers.
According to Dr Mark Widdowson, a psychotherapist and counsellor, people who suffer from anxiety and depression often turn towards comedy to escape from their reality and gain a sense of control.
He told UNILAD:
A lot of people with mental health illnesses are good at covering them up, they hide it really well and that is why it is often a surprise for us when famous people and comedians for instance reveal their problems.
And because they are being funny it is hard to imagine they are feeling bad inside.
Yet comedy is also absolutely perfect for them because they are not going to be in a situation where they don’t know what to say. They have their sets completely planned out.
On stage they can dish out the teasing which they are normally on the receiving end of.
It gives them a real strong sense of control but get them off the stage, where it is all unpredictable, then they will probably struggle.
Although comedy was definitely an escape for Williams, the job also intensified his problems and he turned to drugs and alcohol, addictions which he battled with since the 1970s.
Hollywood is a high pressure environment to work in and the life of a stand-up comedian is often lonely and challenging as you rely on your audience to laugh in order to have any sense of success.
Dr. Widdowson explained to UNILAD:
Even though they are in a room with 500 people for example, they are on their own in it.
Comedians spend a lot of time touring, on the road, in hotels by themselves for weeks on end and that is bad enough for anyone but if you have depression to start off with, it is only going to make it worse.
And there are always going to be people who do not like your set and think your jokes aren’t funny.
Comedians are in a very vulnerable position and I would hope they have a tough enough skin to brush off the criticism but they are just people and it hurts, criticism hurts.
Approximately one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime, so if you are suffering always remember you are not alone and help and support is out there.
Robin Williams’ suicide was tragic but it can also help to open up the conversation about mental health, helping to illuminate the issues, reduce the stigma that surrounds it and hopefully prevent other tragedies from happening.
We just need to talk about it.
Rest in peace Robin Williams. You are so dearly missed.
If you or someone know you is affected by any mental health issue then you can contact the charity Mind on 0300 123 3393 or visit their website.