The tragic death of Robin Williams is a painful reminder of the insidious nature of depression, an often misunderstood condition/disease.
Too often, depression is thought of as a weakness that can be overcome with an attitude adjustment. In reality, however, depression is not something you can just lift yourself out of. It is not a slump, a period of sadness, or a rut. Nor is it to be confused with a “dark night of the soul” or a “desert experience” in spiritual terms.
In reality, depression is a medical condition that has mental, emotion, spiritual, AND physical implications. It is characterized by persistent feelings of joylessness and hopelessness as well as a gnawing feeling that one would be better off dead. It can be misleading to say that it always involves “thoughts of suicide” because many who struggle with depression do not actually contemplate taking their own life but DO wish they were not alive. This sentiment is captured in the lyrics of Stephen Stills’ song Four and Twenty:
“Morning comes the sunrise and I’m driven to my bed.I see that it is empty and there’s devils in my head. I embrace the many colored beast. I grow weary of the torment, can there be no peace? And I find myself just wishing that my life would simply cease.”
Healing, then, should involve prayer, spiritual direction, counseling, and, if prescribed by a doctor, medication to correct the chemical imbalance in the brain. Unlike Scientology, Catholicism recognizes the benefits that anti-depressants can provide when combined with emotional, psychological, and spiritual support.
Depression affects millions of people and should be no more of an embarrassment than being diagnosed with diabetes. Let us pray for Robin Williams, his family, and for all those struggling with depression as well as those who care for them. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please seek professional help. Start by seeing your doctor.