Today, I woke to the tragic news that Robin Williams, one of my all time favourite actors and comedians, was found dead due to an apparent suicide. He was clearly a lot of other people's favourites as well, and I've been close to tears all day looking at the countless tributes on my Facebook feed.
He was a famously troubled soul, such a contrast to the funny, larger than life persona that we all adored watching on our screens.
As many people have said, it's so sad to think that someone who brought fun and laughter to so many millions of people around the world, was privately battling demons that ultimately overcame him.
I've written about depression before, but it really is such a misunderstood illness. If this tragedy can bring anything good, at least it's got lots of people talking about depression and what it can do.
What has surprised me is that there seems to be more understanding than ever, which can never be a bad thing. Okay, so a few people have said "But he had so much talent, so much money, so many fans...why was he depressed?", but the majority of people have simply expressed deep sympathy and sadness for a dark and lost soul who has left us all bereft.
There will always be that view of depression though - when people point out how many good things are in a depressed person's life...."But you have a happy family/lots of money/a beautiful home/a great job....what have YOU got to be depressed about?"
Here's the thing....it's not a choice.
Depression is an illness, and it can kill. It's as deadly as cancer, a deep darkness that can spread silently through your life without even you being aware of it until it's too deeply ingrained.
It can be frustrating for people who live with someone who is battling depression, because for all the world, I guess it does look like a choice.
Just get out of bed, dammit! Smile, watch a comedy, treat yourself to some retail therapy, have a cocktail....
You know that's like putting a band-aid on a broken leg, right?
You never hear anyone saying to someone who's recently been diagnosed with cancer, "But you're always so bubbly! What do YOU have to get cancer about?"
Of course not, that would be ridiculous. We KNOW that nobody chooses to get cancer, and it's the same with depression, or any other mental illness.
Like addiction, depression doesn't care who you are. You could be rich, poor, fat, thin, black, white, gay, straight...it doesn't care if you're a parent (but what about your kids???), or a professional, or anything in between.
Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks "Ah, today, I think I'll become a heroin addict/an alcoholic/bipolar/filled with such despair that I will need to end my life immediately"
I'm glad that the world at large seems to be developing more of an understanding of mental illness, but we can always do with learning more about how to cope, especially if we live with someone who is suffering.
Love, understanding, patience. It can be hard, and frustrating, and terrifying. I know only too well what it's like to tragically lose a beloved one to depression, and I never want to go through it again, but at the end of the day, it's out there. We have to be aware of it and what to do if we find ourselves either feeling depressed or loving someone who is.
This article on the best and worst things to say to someone who is depressed is a good starting point, as are organisations such as Mind and The Samaritans.
We must be aware that, like cancer, we won't be able to "save" everyone, but at least if we know how to find or give support, it's a start.
Rest in peace, Robin. You were a brilliant man, who will never, ever be forgotten. I hope you've found your heaven.