My social media sites became filled last evening with news about Robin Williams’ death. Everyone was shocked, saddened, upset and devastated that this vivacious man who made it his job to make others laugh had taken his own life.
An online group I belong to started a thread about it. As the conversation grew I woke to a post this morning from one of the members:
Maybe this thread can lead into a discussion…if more needs to be done to help those with mental illness, what do you think should be done?
The dialogue that opened had members having the courage to talk about events in their lives that were hard for them to discuss. It humbled me to read them.
I had some thoughts of my own that I shared in response to this group member’s question. What do you think should be done?
We all have to start paying more attention to those close to us – and when I say ‘close’ to us I mean those we see A LOT. Those we work with, our immediate family whom we talk with or see several times a week, best friends, people who we are in organized extra-curricular events with. We have to pay attention. When we see a change, we have to start addressing it more. We have to stop assuming that ‘there is nothing wrong’, ‘it’s not my place’, or ‘she just has to get over herself’. I’m not saying to go around psychoanalyzing everyone. But when someone you have known for a while suddenly starts to display personality traits that are not consistent with who they typically are – pay attention. We all know drama queens, that’s not what I’m talking about either. We have to be willing to be honest whether someone likes/wants to hear what we have to say or not. We have to stop worrying about upsetting people. We have to get our heads of the sand and BE the support that people need because yes, it is our business, and if it’s not, then make it because too many people are dying or hurting others because we are turning our heads too scared to get involved.
There has to be more psychiatrists/psychologists, social workers, therapists brought into the medical system (at least here) and this has to be TOP priority for our schools. 2 and 3 year waiting lists for psych-ed testing for something as ‘simple as’ learning disabilities HAS TO CHANGE. Because guess what? Something ‘as simple as’ learning disabilities could someday lead to other issues and it can open the door (if not handled properly) for mental illnesses to fester (low self esteem, depression, etc etc).
Mental illness is still taboo in our culture and society. People still feel the need to hide away and suffer silently. Does a diabetic have to feel ashamed to ask for help? Why is it someone who has mental issues feels that way? Why are they made to feel ‘less’? Is it because we continue to turn our head the other way? We have to stop making this someone else’s problem and step up to the plate. We have to make this an everyday issue – not just an issue when tragedy strikes at a school or shopping mall and when ‘someone famous’ dies because they felt that’s the only choice they had.
It’s an invisible illness. You can’t see it. There is no wheelchair, there are no outward signs. It means we have to pay attention to people. We have to stop being so wrapped up in our own worlds to take the time to notice those around us. We have to slow down, we have to try to get back to a lifestyle that wasn’t so chaotic and technically motivated.
We have to re-engage and go back to interacting with people face-to-face. We have to be more empathetic and sympathetic and not be afraid of overstepping our bounds.
We’re all quick enough to have an opinion of what someone should have done after the fact; it’s time we put a brave face on and have the courage to share those opinions before hand next time.
In a statement released last night from Mr. William’s wife she stated that she didn’t want his death to be the focus of all this. I get that, I understand her need for saying that. But what is that doing? It is pushing mental illness under the rug yet again, it is saying ‘don’t talk about it’, it is casting a dark shadow of shame over what happened. This man, no matter how successful, rich, funny or well-loved that he was was not happy. He felt that the only way to handle was to not handle. For whatever reason he reached out in July and went back to rehab to seek help. What happened in the last few weeks to take him to the point of no return? Did she, as she stated in her release, not focus on the now? Did she assume that because he was Robin Williams he could just ‘get over it’?
And yes, I think if we stopped and thought about it, we all know someone who has been affected by mental illness, so why does this continue to go on? Why is the stigma still there? Why do people continue to feel they need to hide and face this alone? Because of the way our society has evolved. Our society can’t/won’t deal with us or accept us if we are less than the best, that’s why.
How did we get to the point that we stopped taking time to appreciate the totally insignificant things in our life, or should I say the things in our life that we have made insignificant? We have to get back in touch with what’s important. A beautiful day, puffy clouds, a hummingbird fluttering overhead, a garden growing. Nature is an incredible miracle. Our world has so many undeniable miracles right at our fingertips that many times we choose to ignore because we are too busy, because we don’t take the time to see them. We need to retrain ourselves to appreciate the things in life that give us absolutely nothing but pleasure. We have to try to step back from getting ahead, and putting too much value on ‘success’.
Our kids have to learn how to be kids again – to play, to pretend, to imagine, to scrape their knees, to hurt, to be disappointed, and to yes, even fail. We have to stop handing everything to our kids just because. We have to stop enabling. We have to stop focusing on being the best, being #1, and settling for nothing less. We need to encourage our kids to be the best THEY CAN BE. There’s a difference there – a big difference. Someone is always going to be better – and that’s ok. Our kids don’t need to be going non-stop every day. We don’t have to have our kids involved in more activities than there are days of the week. Our kids have to learn to be bored. They have to NOT have something to do all. the. time. They need down time to just be. They need to know that it’s ok to just flop on their bed in their room and look up to the ceiling and daydream or think. We don’t have to be continually doing something with/for them. We all want to give our kids the ‘best’, we all want to see them ‘succeed’, but what is the definition of those two words? My success is different than your success and the best for me may not even hold a candle to your idea of best. We have to redefine these terms and make the term applicable to the person, not try to turn the person into our definition of the term.
We have to get back to caring about people. We have to stop saying what someone ‘wants’ to hear and start saying what they ‘need’ to hear and not be afraid to hurt their feelings. And we have to be willing to listen when someone tells us what we need to hear, whether we want to hear it or not. I’m not saying to go out and tear someone apart just because. We can express opinions using tact not to belittle or chastise.
I’ll say it again because I feel it’s worth repeating…It’s way too easy to have all the answers after-the-fact. If we were all so well versed about it after-the-fact, we have to be willing to express those answers and opinions before the questions have to be asked.
Until next time…