Robin Williams and depression

I was going to write about the ancient burial chambers on the Isles of Scilly today, so expect that to come later this week. Instead, I feel compelled to write something about the sad news today. As I’m sure you know by now, one of the most talented comedians and actors of our time, Robin Williams, has died aged 63. His death is apparently due to suicide, the end result of years of severe depression compounded by alcohol and drug problems.

I probably first encountered Robin Williams as the genie in Aladdin, and then grew up with his films being always there, a comforting background presence, whether comedic or dramatic.  What Dreams May Come was one of the first films that really made me and many others of my generation think about death, life and what it all means. Dead Poets Society remains one of the most profoundly life-affirming, and death-accepting, films of all time.

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What Robin Williams’ tragic death reminds me is that mental illnesses like depression are very real, and can be fatal.

Already on the internet, I’ve seen amongst the outpourings of grief, people saying he was ‘weak’ or ‘selfish’ and that he ‘gave in’. No, he was ill. Is a cancer sufferer weak or selfish if their illness kills them? It’s time mental illness was understood as a real illness and talked about openly, instead of in hushed whispers of shame or stigma.

Depression is not the same as sadness, and it cannot be cured by success, money, happiness, or positive thinking. If one of the funniest and most thoughtful people in the world can’t think themselves out of it, then nobody can.

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Reflections on killing

large_1728644102When I was an undergraduate English Literature student, I had the opportunity to write a dissertation in my final year about (relatively) whatever I wanted. I had just finished a module on American Literature, with a emphasis on war-related fiction and I knew what I wanted to write about: the representation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Gulf War Literature. So started a life-long interest in the effects of killing on individuals serving in the armed forces and in civilian life, such as serial killers. There are a wide range of different angles this type of interest can take and I will start covering some of them over the course of the next few months on this blog.

Needless to say, regardless of the situation, taking another life is a pretty big deal. You are effectively extinguishing a life and reducing a living being to a motionless body that will then need to be disposed of in whichever method is most culturally appropriate. The effect of this kind of death in far-reaching, from the individual to the family of the deceased. However, understanding the reasoning (or sometimes lack thereof) behind a killing and the subsequent effects of that event can be of great value to immediate communities, the legal system and society as a whole.

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