Robin Williams was a genius stand-up comedian, which translated into some of the most memorable roles in film history (Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, the Birdcage). But, as a Juliard graduate, he was also a talented dramatist (Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings). Mr. Williams was a philanthropist as well, co-creating the Comic Relief fundraiser, performing for the USO, and supporting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, among others.
As is the case with many great comedians, Robin Williams also battled with drugs, alcohol and depression.
Unfortunately, many people do not accept depression as a real disease. Depression is not simply being sad. Many people misuse the word and think of it as something people can just snap out of. As a personal-injury lawyer, I see this bias used against my clients all the time. When we represent a client who suffers a traumatic brain injury, or loses his/her job or independence or ability to engage in the same activities as before their injury….they can develop any one of the depressive disorders recognized and classified by the DSM-IV:
Major Depressive Disorder: This is classified by the DSM-IV when someone has at least two weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest accompanied by at least four additional symptoms of depression (for more days than not).
Dysthymic Disorder: is characterized by at least two years of depressed mood for more days than not, accompanied by additional depressive symptoms that do not meet the criteria for a major depressive episode.
Mood Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition: a prominent and persistent disturbance in mood that is judged to be a direct physiological consequence of another medical condition.
Substance-Induced Mood Disorder: prominent and persistent disturbance in mood due to drug abuse, medication or toxin exposure.
Major Depressive Episode: at least two weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities; increased irritability, change in appetite, sleep pattern, difficultly thinking, concentrating or making decisions, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
I represent many clients with permanent disabilities. Sometimes that disability brings depression with it. I cannot tell you how many insurance adjusters I speak to about depression who discount the diagnoses and refuse to give it more than minimal consideration in their evaluation my client’s personal injuries (in which case, we often have to file a law suit to force the insurer to pay fair value, it just takes unnecessarily longer).
According to the National Institute of Health, nearly ½ of all people with a traumatic-brain injury (TBI) are affected by depression within the first year; and 2/3rds within seven years after the injury. Along with depression, anxiety is also a common consequence of TBI. After an injury depression may result from actual physical changes to the injured areas of the brain (that control emotions with the alteration of neurotransmitters).
But you don’t need to sustain a traumatic-brain injury to suffer from traumatically-induced depression. Depression can arise when someone sustains any injury that forces them to adjust to a lasting disability, which results in a perceived loss of personal self-worth, ability to contribute to their family, work or community.
Robin Williams, of course, was not physically injured. He was a tortured soul. He was someone who had everything and gave it away because he lost the battle with his demons. I can’t speculate as to whether he was receiving the treatment he so needed. But I can hope that his death brings awareness to the truly serious disease real depression can be – and encourage anyone battling with drugs, alcohol and depression (traumatically induced or not) to seek help and avoid a similar fate.
We all mourn the death of Robin Williams. He brought so much joy into our world. We offer our deepest condolences to his family.
Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 to Aug 11, 2014).