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Opinion: Robin Williams’ death is a tragedy we should learn from – reach out to someone. Today.

Ask someone how they’re doing today, and listen – really listen – to the answer.

Fiona Kennedy

ROBIN WILLIAMS’ DEATH is everywhere today, I was aware of it before I even got out of bed (thanks, Facebook). It’s been on my mind as to whether or not I would post something about it. I have really mixed feelings about the general furore that follows the death of a celebrity, whether accidental or – in this case – probably not.

On the one hand, depression is once again in the media, and that’s no bad thing. But on the other, why does it take the death of a celebrity to make that happen? People are dying by suicide every single day. Mental ill health will affect 1 in 3 people over the course of their lifetime – that’s a higher rate than cancer. But still, still, it takes something like this for it to be OK to talk about it. In fact, it almost seems obligatory to talk about it today.

You’re only given a given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.

– Robin Williams

Some days, I would give anything to be rid of my little spark of madness. Others, I’m grateful for it. Some days, I want to bang my head against a wall in frustration at the fact that a change in attitude towards mental illness is happening so painfully slowly. Then there are days like today when there are so many mixed feelings: a pang of sadness that someone else has thought suicide was the only option; recognition for what he must have been feeling; relief that I didn’t go down that road; fear that I may someday feel that badly again; hope that the lid is being further lifted on a difficult conversation; frustration that for the next couple of days it will be OK to admit to having depression or another mental illness, but once the dust settles, the cloak of silence will come back down and once more, mental health, or lack thereof, will be off the agenda.

There’s a depression bandwagon rolling today. I appreciate the irony of my lamenting that fact while at the same time writing about it, but it’s what’s on my mind. The difference for me, though, as well as the countless others who have experienced mental illness, is that our issues won’t stop when the media looks away. Our need for help won’t go away just because it’s not the subject of the moment. This is a conversation that needs to continue, long term.

I’d like to think that maybe the impact of the death of someone so well known, and such an inspiration to many, will prompt people to pause, and maybe reflect a little. Contact numbers of support services are flying around the internet today, and that is wonderful to see. But those numbers need to be kept in circulation, regardless of circumstances. We all need reminding every now and then that it’s OK to ask for help, and sometimes having that reminder come entirely unprompted can be all the more powerful.

I’m saddened that the conversation has had to come about once more as a result of tragedy, but maybe we can learn from it?

Ask someone how they’re doing today, and listen – really listen – to the answer. You might be throwing them a lifeline.

Fiona Kennedy is a 30(ish) year old, happily married, mam of two, living in a small town in Connemara. She has two crazy dogs, wonderful friends and a loving, supportive family. Oh, and clinical depression. She blogs at Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @SunnyScatteredFiona is an Ambassador for See Change – a national movement to change minds about mental health, one conversation at a time’. 

Helplines

  • Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Robin Williams remembered: All his most beloved roles in one place

People are leaving tributes to Robin Williams outside the Mork and Mindy house

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