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Robin Williams and Good Will Hunting: Asking R U OK?

This page created 25th August 2014

By Kate and Terri (ADAVIC Volunteers)

The world was in mourning after the tragic and unexpected recent passing of Robin Williams in August. Although Williams had spoken at length about his battles with addiction, and at times alluded to experiences of mental health issues, it appears as if his fiercest battles were in secret. Nearly everyone, including those closest to him, were shocked and heartbroken to learn that one of recent history’s most prolific funny-men had decided to take his own life. The passing of most celebrities hits the headlines, however the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this event, have meant that we have seen increased media attention on topics of mental health, depression and suicide. Subsequent to this, Lifeline Australia reported a 25% increase in crisis support service usage for the 48 hours following the news of Robin Williams’ passing.

As most of us are aware, mental health issues are not new, nor are they rare. Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2008 suggests that one in five Australian adults will experience depression at some stage during their lifetime, however, it is quite possible that this number has risen since. This highlights why most of us feel a personal connection to depression and related mental health concerns.

Additionally, there is a well-established assumption and belief that a significant link lies between the creative mind and depression and other mood disorders. Some speculate that this is categorised by a creative person’s tendency to ruminate, have deep, extensive and expansive thoughts about their feelings and emotions, and the inclination to be overtly critical of themselves. Interestingly, Arnold M. Ludwig of Kentucky Medical Centre undertook a 10 year study of 1,004 men and women from multiple disciplines and found that between 59% and 77% of the artists, writers and musicians suffered from some form of mental illness, particularly mood disorders, compared to just 18% to 29% of the less artistic professionals.

This theory has been supported throughout history, with countless documented cases of mental health issues from Dickens, Hemingway and Tchaikovsky to more recent instances like Paul Hester, Amy Winehouse, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Matthew Newton. These people highlight to the rest of us that even those who appear to have it all, may in fact be those who struggle the most, and experiences of mental health are not bound by factors of gender, age, status, wealth or geography.

In no way are we trying to diminish these experiences and we acknowledge the devastating circumstances surrounding each and every one of these cases, but high profile examples do allow for the opportunity to open up discussion about issues of mental health, help raise awareness and reduce stigma.

The private struggles of Robin Williams emphasise that anyone in our lives, from the guy who sits next to you on the tram, to your family and friends, may too have experiences that you are not aware of. We believe, given the current spotlight depression has in the world’s media and the upcoming R U OK? Day (September 11, 2014), that there is no better time than now to check in on those around you, talk openly to others about your experiences and feelings and help guide those in need – whether that is yourself or others – to seek help and support.

Although opening up avenues of discussion with those you care about can be confronting, daunting and outright scary, regular personal contact and conversations can help us all to build and maintain strong relationships with friends and family. In fact, research indicates that it is these strong relationships that allow us to cope with life’s inevitable rollercoaster of ups and downs.

The R U OK? Organisation suggests that if your gut says that something is not quite right with someone, chances are that they might need a bit of extra support from those around them – they may be acting a little differently, seem to have a lot on their plate, or just simply aren’t themselves. Don’t ignore these signs, but instead take some time to start a conversation, you may not have all the answers, but it is simply about following some straightforward and caring steps that can really make a difference. The following link provides some helpful tips about getting the conversation started and dealing with the difficult conversation that may follow:

Furthermore, given the recent heightened awareness and discussion surrounding mental health, we believe now is also the prime opportunity for people to make a conscious effort to dismantle and reduce the stigmatisation of mental health issues. It was unfortunate that the details of Robin Williams’ passing were met by some with ignorant responses similar to ‘suicide is selfish’, ‘he took the easy way out’ and ‘taking your own life is a complete overreaction and a rash decision’. For those who have not had personal experience with depression and suicidality, it may be easy to jump to these conclusions. For those with more insight, however, this is the time to quash ignorance and educate others about the reality and severity of mental health experiences. Perhaps the words of Andy Bull and Lisa Mitchell can provide us one way of explaining these feelings to others in their song ‘Dog’

Seeking Help and Support

We recognise that some people do not feel comfortable talking to their friends or family members about their mental health concerns, however, there are many organisations out there who provide that listening ear for those in need. If you or someone you know would like some more information, support or advice, please do not hesitate to contact ADAVIC or any of the following organisations:

  • Lifeline                                 24 Hour Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Helpline
  • BeyondBlue                         24 Hour Support Service with Trained Mental Health Professionals
  • Black Dog Institute               Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention of Mood Disorders such as Depression and Biploar disorder
  • ManTherapy                         Designed to get blokes to take practical action to take charge of depression and/or anxiety, and to combat suicidal thoughts.
  • MensLine Australia               24 Hour Professional Telephone and Online Support and Information Service for Australian Men
  • Mind Australia (ARAFEMI)     Free and confidential information, support and referrals for families, carers and friends of those with mental illness.

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