Depression is no laughing matter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When the world learned Monday that comedian Robin Williams had taken his own life, the laughter stopped.

Williams, 63, made us laugh as a resident alien; a divorced father desperate to see his children; a disc jockey entertaining troops in Vietnam. Even though he had disclosed his previous battles with addiction and depression, to an outsider, he appeared to have a charmed life.

Williams, whose fans numbered the millions, was said to have felt alone. Statistics show us he was far from alone.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, an estimated 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

A combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors can trigger depression. Like many major diseases, depression can be debilitating. Unlike other major diseases, the process of getting a diagnosis or even finding a root cause is not so clear. It often starts with a conversation with a doctor, perhaps the best tool for diagnosing depression.

Those who’ve never suffered severe depression often encourage patients to “snap out of it.”

“No one would dream of offering such cruel and ridiculous ‘advice’ to someone diagnosed with cancer or heart disease; the admonition is equally inappropriate in the case of depression,” Duke University psychologist Stephen Ilardi wrote in a blog post for Psychology Today.

While there is no cure, medications and therapy can help.

If you know someone with the signs of depression – which in addition to sadness can include memory lapses, fatigue, and prolonged aches and pains – start the conversation. Encourage those you believe to be depressed to have the conversation with a doctor or mental health professional.

As Williams quipped, “Depression is no laughing matter.”


To learn more about depression and how to help individuals in suicidal crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)