Having heard the saddening news that Robin Williams had taken his own life last week, I was forced to delve into a locked place in my mind where the fact of my mother's death exists.
Depression defeated Robin Williams, and it has defeated so many more strong individuals before and since, including my mother. According to charity Mental Health Foundation, depression will affect around one in 12 people in the UK. Depression is a significant illness. Unfortunately, the majority of people do not take this fact seriously. I am ashamed to say I was part of that naïve majority, until I was forced to stop and think.
Robin Williams had a life-long struggle with depression and sobriety, and eventually he lost that battle. Afterwards, a theoretically impartial news provider casually dubbed Williams a coward for his loss. The word coward has no place alongside depression. There is nothing cowardly about spending a life, or any part of a life, feeling inadequate, desperately sad and alone, while fighting those feelings every single day.
My mother fought the same battle. She did not officially commit suicide, her death was ruled an accidental overdose. In reality, I believe my mother, and likely many other sufferers liker her, was so tired of fighting the overwhelming feeling of despondency creeping into every corner of her existence that eventually, she toyed with fate and lost. She reached a point where she felt that not being on this earth would be far easier and less painful than being here. No one should ever arrive at such a conclusion.
It is interesting that when discussing a person taking their own life we use the verb 'commit'; a verb which instantly places blame and calls to the mind an immoral act having been carried out. Who is really to blame when such a tragedy takes place? Are the victims of depression any more to blame for their illness than a sufferer of heart disease, stroke or a brain tumour? Those who suffer from depression are being failed everyday, and it is the world's ignorance and disdain that is perpetuating this failure. We should all be mindful of those fighting this illness, often they are not strong enough to do so alone.
A person with cancer would never be told to simply "snap out of it" or "just feel better". Why? The answer is obvious. Because they have a medically recognised condition and they are therefore socially accepted as ill.
Knowing how my own mother felt, one of the worst products of suffering from depression or addiction is dealing with the social stigma attached to it. Embarrassment, shame and humiliation are some of the shattering emotions our society has smeared on a very real problem. Who deemed it so, that a person suffering from depression should be less deserving of recognition and compassion? This overpowering illness eats away at its victims, body and soul. It is not imagined, it is not merely one feeling sad or down. Depression is an all-consuming, debilitating disorder that crushes its victims.
Had I known any of this before my mother passed away, I would have told her that I am sorry for asking her to stop being so sad, to appreciate life and stop moping, like these were choices she could make. I would tell her that she is not alone, that there are people suffering like her in their droves, and that suicide is not the only option, in fact should not even be an option at all.
I was ignorant, because I have grown up in a system that is broken. Broken in that it fails to fully recognise and make steps to alleviate a worldwide illness affecting millions of people every day.
Almost every other illness bold enough and strong enough to seize innocent lives has our full attention. Depression should be no exception.