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Why You are Sad Robin Williams Died
Robin Williams Suicide Shocks World
Anytime a celebrity of mega-watt status like Robin Williams dies, it is going to gain massive media attention. Recent news of his suicide has shaken many people to their core, causing mass shock that can be felt around the world.
Ever since word of his death hit the newswire, interest in Robin Williams, his movies and his mental health history have skyrocketed. A quick look at social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, suggests that people have been deeply moved by his passing and are trying to process a multitude of feelings, ranging from sadness to disbelief.
For many, it is a time of mourning. Mass grief in fact is a common reaction when celebrities die unexpectedly.
What is difficult for fans and casual observers to comprehend is: How could a person as funny and energetic as Robin Williams was be suffering from depression?
To help us better understand what fans of the star may be feeling right now, I decided to speak with an expert who has experience with celebrity deaths.
Interview: Dr. John D. Moore
Dr. John D. Moore is a licensed psychotherapist, certified drug and alcohol counselor and approved clinical supervisor. He is author of the bestselling book, Confusing Love with Obsession and is founder of 2nd Story Counseling in Chicago, which is where Robin Williams was born.
His work has been featured in many popular media outlets, including Cosmo, the Los Angeles Times and Men’s Health. I spoke with Dr. Moore when Paul Walker died an effort to gain greater insight into the topic of mass grief and public trauma.
I was able to speak to contact him and ask a few questions about the death of Robin Williams.
Let’s jump right in.
How sad were you when you heard Robin Williams died?
Why are so many people interested in Robin Williams right now?
There are a number of reasons. To begin with, Williams was an extremely popular actor, known for his gifted sense of humor and ability to make people laugh. He literally could take almost any topic, situation or event and instantly make it funny. He was known as the king of “improv”.
Second, Robin Williams has been in our living rooms for decades, be it through his movies, television shows or in the form of popular magazines. As a result, people around the world felt they knew him personally.
What role does the nature of his death have in elevating his profile?
One of the main things that can increase interest around celebrity, as in the case of Williams, is the manner in which they died. In this situation, we have a psychological paradox going on, meaning that it’s hard for people to understand how someone who could bring people so much joy also suffer from such deep emotional pain. That he died of an apparent suicide only compounds the feelings of shock and disbelief.
And the age of a celebrity also can have an impact on reactions from the public. Williams was a relatively young actor, only 63. Think about other stars who were young and suddenly died and you will see a correlation in public interest. Examples include Paul Walker, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston and JFK, Jr.
The notable item about Robin Williams is what I like to call the “opposites of reality”, meaning his public persona was jovial and happy. Inside however, he appeared to be deeply sad – namely, depression.
Word is that Robin Williams had an addiction – can you speak about this?
He has publicly spoken about his struggles with addiction on a number of occasions. While I am not privy to his personal medical records, I can speak in broader terms about how addiction can impact depression.
My understanding is that Williams lived with an addiction to cocaine and alcohol. Anyone who has an addiction to these kinds of substances can be vulnerable to depression. And if a person has a pre-existing diagnosis of a mood disorder, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, the addiction can act as an exacerbating force. This is true of people who are living a life of sobriety - meaning they are drug and/or alcohol free.
Are you saying that even if an addict is not using, they are prone to depression
The simple answer is – yes. Think about it for a moment. Many people who suffer from depression learned to medicate their emotional pain through the use of substances. A good number of these folks did not even know they were depressed in the first place. They just knew that using a given drug made them feel better. And it here where you see addictions are often formed. It can be a vicious cycle.
Let me tack on that staying on the path to sobriety is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. Imagine for a second that you already have major depression. Now imagine that while you are trying battle this legitimate health concern you are also trying to remain “clean” from alcohol or drugs. It’s not easy – not easy at all. It requires ongoing support, treatment and for many, therapy, in order to maintain wellness.
How is it possible he could make us so happy yet be depressed?
That’s the thing about depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues – you can’t always spot them. Many people who suffer from a mood disorder appear to be fine however, on the inside, they may silently be suffering. Major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder often require ongoing, lifetime treatment. Here we are talking about a combination of talk-therapy and in many cases, medication. The best we can do is manage mood disorders however, we can't cure them.
There are a good number of people who have been - or are in - the public spotlight that have suffered from depression. Because of stigmas that are connected to these disorders, they are often not discussed and widely misunderstood.
If anything, the death of Robin Williams may help to spark greater awareness around the topic of depression and mental health in general. It is unfortunate however that it takes the suicide of a major star to get us talking about these issues.
Williams talks about addiction
Do people form emotional ties to celebrities?
Absolutely – no question about it. These bonds are formed through common interests and experiences. In the case of Williams, you had several things going on which tied him to a multi-generational, large fan base.
First, if you like comedy, you are probably going to love Robin Williams. A good chunk of his television shows and movies roles fell into the comedic realm. Keep in mind that this was an actor who had been with us, in some form, since the late 70’s. We’re talking Mork and Mindy era. And he kept appearing in new TV roles and movies year after year, all the way through today. That kind of presence is just going to create a humongous fan base.
Second, Williams was known for taking on unusual roles and making them into something big-time memorable. Mrs. Doubtfire for example comes to mind. The ability to “step” into a difficult role and pull it off in such a powerful way is just not something any actor can do. And so as a result, you had a fan base that cut across generational lines, gender lines and sexual orientation.
Finally, Robin Williams was “comfort food” for many people, including me. Whenever you saw him, you knew he was going to make you laugh. He had that unique ability to do that. It’s not something that can be manufactured or that I can really articulate into words.
Is it sick that people want to know about the morbid details of his death?
Not really. In fact, it’s very human. It is our nature to be curious about death and dying. Folks are still talking about how public figures that passed away long ago died. Examples include John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. Recent examples include Paul Walker and Whitney Houston.
Were you a fan of Robin Williams?
Yep – I sure was. I can remember watching him back on Mork and Mindy and even on SCTV. He was from Chicago so there was that connection too.
When I think about it thought, I guess he was just someone I naturally gravitated towards. I suspect that is the case for lots of people. I would like to say here that my deepest sympathies go out to William’s wife, children and entire family.
What can people do to cope with their feelings?
There are a couple of things. I don’t have specifics on the numbers but I suspect that interest in his movies and memorabilia have shot up. Watching Robin Williams and remembering why we liked him in the first place may bring people comfort. We get so caught up in the events of a star’s passing that we forget about what drew us to them in life.
Joining in discussions that share memories and stories about Williams can also be helpful. There are lots of places for this in the world of social media, such as fan pages on Facebook. Talking about what a certain celebrity means to us can be deeply therapeutic.
And readers of this interview should know that it is not uncommon for a celebrity death to stir up some or our own stuff – meaning that if addiction or depression hit close to home, we may need to seek out support and help. Places for support include 12-step meetings, like AA or in the work we do with a helping professional, like a therapist.
People can also donate to a charity that supports the treatment of depression or addiction. The National Alliance on Mental Health may be a good option. There are many others of course. What’s important is that folks give to a cause that relates to something he was concerned about.
Thank you for your time Dr. Moore
You bet and I hope everyone takes time to learn more about depression. It really is a serious medical issue that we should not be afraid or ashamed to talk about.
End of Interview