This morning I was reminded in the worst way possible about why I’ve devoted 2014 to raising awareness of, and funds for the mental health charity Mind.
The news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide has come as a real shock, and the tributes that have followed are proof of the affection and respect there was for the man and his work.
Robin Williams suffered from depression.
He was talented, hugely successful, with a loving wife and all the trappings of fame and fortune. Yet he still suffered from depression.
Way back when, Robin Williams was an unknown street entertainer, juggling and telling jokes for whatever change passers-by gave him. He was spotted by the producer of Happy Days, who secured him a one-off appearance as Mork... and the rest as they say...
Obviously the journey from the sidewalks of Los Angeles to movie star comes with a media-fuelled interest in the man behind the performer that can easily escalate into an intrusion. I heard that he would always sidestep questions about his mental health, or launch into a rambling monologue to deflect attention away from the most difficult of subjects, but despite clearly being a troubled man, his passing in such circumstances is still desperately sad.
By 8:30am I had received a phone call from BBC Radio Tees inviting me to take part in a discussion prompted by Williams’ passing. Obviously I was pleased to be asked and happy to be involved, but it’s a slight shame that it takes the death of a “star” for the topic of mental health to become “news”.
However the truth is that for every well-known sufferer, there are any number of ordinary folk struggling to cope with some aspect of their life... or life itself. It’s an often unseen struggle, the most extreme consequences of which will be highlighted on many a front page tomorrow morning, but if there’s a battle to be fought, then it doesn’t have to be fought alone.
There is so much help, advice and treatment available to support anyone suffering from any form of mental illness. The first step is almost certainly the hardest, but if there is a realisation and an element of acceptance that things aren’t right, then finding the courage to talk, or ask for help is that first step.
I would never underestimate just how hard it is to open up to anyone about issues that seem overwhelming, controlling and debilitating. It took me several months before I first spoke to a doctor about my own situation. Close friends and family knew something was wrong, but it wasn’t until I finally accepted that I could not cope that I sought help. I sat down in the chair and before I could say a word I simply broke down. All the anxieties and difficulties that I’d tried so hard to deal with simply poured out, almost uncontrollably; and whilst that might sound embarrassing, it was also the point at which a corner was turned...
Ten years on and I am so much stronger. I am so lucky to be loved by my truly amazing wife Elaine, as well as my wonderful family; and supported by some genuine and inspiring friends. I suppose through my blogs, many know more about me that they would necessarily reveal about themselves, but whilst being open might be enough to make some click the “x” in the corner of the screen, it might just make one person carry on reading because they see something that they recognise in themselves....
Don’t be afraid. It’s okay to ask for help.