Laughing until you cry: Thoughts on Robin Williams and mental health

Robin Williams. (Credit: Peggy Sirota for Parade.)

Robin Williams. (Credit: Peggy Sirota for Parade.)

Mrs. Doubtfire is one of those films my brother and I absolutely loved as kids and would always stop to watch whenever we found it while channel surfing. What’s not to love? Robin Williams’ performance is outlandish but gentle in all the right ways.

It’s one of those film that reminds you of childhood, a film that makes you feel at home. And after news broke of Williams’ death on Monday afternoon, I know many others also feel the same way.

The 63-year-old actor and comedian was discovered dead Monday in his home and it was revealed he had likely committed suicide. Police said Williams was being treated for depression at the time, which only further cements the truth that depression and mental illness does not discriminate and is often hidden behind happy faces and laughter.

Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

The challenge with depression and mental health is that despite much of the information and awareness out there, it’s something really difficult to comprehend unless you’ve experienced it yourself or have seen it play out in a loved one. This was my experience a couple years ago when a family member was diagnosed with encephalitis.

Even when you’re present and watching first-hand as a family member goes through the stages of a mental health problem – being diagnosed, accepting it, learning to live with it – it’s hard to reconcile the person you know with the spectre that hangs over them.

It’s important to realize that the mind is just as fragile as any other part of the human system. You often hear people talk about how a broken mind, although invisible to the human eye, is just as serious as a broken bone. This is something I acknowledge and have repeated to myself often but even then, I find myself asking how something so debilitating could affect someone I love so much.

The reality is that mental health shouldn’t be something we only talk about when we’re struck with a lightning bolt of an event, such as Williams’ death. Mental wellness is something we should all be mindful of, in ourselves and in those around us. Just as how we’re taught from a young age to exercise and eat well, we should also be aware of how to maintain our own mental health and fitness.

I’m often skeptical of the echo chamber that is the Internet but if there’s anything worth sharing and repeating a thousand times over, it’s the discussion around mental health and wellness. For more information on mental health, you can check out some of the links I’ve included below.

Canadian Mental Health Association (B.C.)

B.C. Mental Health & Substance Use Services

B.C. Ministry of Health Toll-Free Information Lines

Mental Health America