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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Misconceptions of Mental Illness.

As I was trying to get to sleep late last night, a notification popped up on my phone which illuminated my whole room. I couldn't resist checking having a quick glance. It was The Guardian that informed me of the tragic death of Robin Williams at about five past midnight. Like so many fans of all ages and nationalities have expressed today through social media, I was heartbroken.
It's strange. Fans of deceased celebrities seem just as devastated as direct members of family. I can only imagine what those closest to Williams are going through. Although we only ever got to know the public perception of Williams, this doesn't make the news of his suicide any less distressing. As an extremely versatile and talented actor, Robin Williams was invited into our homes. My generation grew up with Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook, only to later appreciate the masterpiece that is Dead Poet's Society.

But unlike the sudden deaths of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Glee star Cory Monteith last year, Williams' passing is perhaps even more shocking. Everybody's favourite funnyman took his own life - he made a decision whereas other distressing celebrity deaths have resulted from accidental drug overdoses and alcohol abuse. This makes it harder for us all to process. How can a man whose fame was largely based on his inherent ability to make people laugh be so unhappy in himself? With any suicide, often people start jumping to conclusions - they judge the deceased by calling them selfish and silly. After all, you wouldn't think a man with all the success and popularity Williams garnered would ever suffer such unhappiness. But he did. What I think a lot of people fail to recognise during these unfortunate circumstances is that it is not our place to judge Robin Williams - we can only pay tribute to the wonderful actor that he was. The public seems very quick to write off Williams since the news broke last night. It's almost as if we don't want to confront the question of depression so instead we attack Williams' ultimate decision to take his life. We fail to understand his reasoning because, from the outside, he was living the dream. Yet, mental illness isn't based on logic - I don't even believe it's scientific. The human psyche is irrational and its therefore incredibly hard to understand why so many people suffer with depression and anxiety if you yourself don't. Like the old saying goes, 'money doesn't buy happiness'. As an outsider, its easy to say that Robin Williams had it all.
As someone living with an anxiety disorder, I have been affected by the stigma surrounding mental illness. Williams was always open about his struggles, he didn't live in shame which is hugely admirable in itself. If anything, his professional work was an escape from his inner demons. All I can hope for is that his films remain untainted by his sudden passing. Like the beautiful statement he wife released this morning said, 'it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions'. From what I can tell from Twitter and my personal Facebook news feed, tributes and sympathy continue to pour in for this wonderful actor who fought his hardest against a crippling disease. 

The final moments of Dead Poet's Society are hugely poignant and take on new meaning since Williams' passing. His character, Mr. Keating, spends the entirety of the film inspiring these sons of wealthy, conservative families to think differently about Literature. To subvert the strict boundaries laid out for them in both their traditional school syllabuses and for their futures. The moment these boys stand on their desks to the outrage of their headmaster and recite the Walt Whitman quote, 'O' Captain, My Captain!,' is a mixture of both triumph and poignancy. Just like his character Mr. Keating, Williams won the hearts of people all round the world. He was a Hollywood gem and will be sorely missed. But his legacy of films he leaves behind is perhaps the greatest obituary of all. Not only has Hollywood lost one of its own today, but the world has been taught a lesson in mental illness. Instead of blaming Williams for his struggles and questioning his choices, the focus should be on his great talent and society's misconception of crippling illnesses of the mind.
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