Robin Williams was found hanging at his home after he had also tried to slash one of his wrists in August 2014. The seemingly happy actor and comedian who made the world laugh in movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire and A Merry Friggin’ Christmas, had been suffering from the depression for several years. While women are more prone to depression than men, men are more likely to commit suicide than women. Dr. Phillip McGraw host of his own popular show Dr. Phil says, “Sometimes for folks that are contemplating suicide, you will often times see an upswing in mood right towards the end, because they have made their decision and found their solution and they will realize that in their way of seeing things, they are short termers and so they are not going to suffer this much longer.” Williams’s death shook the world and opened the lid for discussion and awareness on depression. The stars’ death was a wakeup call that this misunderstood mental illness, cuts across all levels of society.
High profile figures have since come out to talk about this problem. One of them is Prince Harry who recently broke royal tradition by opening up about his mental health problems, caused by unresolved grief for his mother Princess Diana who died in a car accident twenty years ago. It’s only recently that he came to terms with her death by seeking psychiatric help after his elder brother Prince William encouraged him to do so. His was an important message especially to men to stop suffering in silence. “The experience that I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realise that actually you’re a part of quite a big club.”
Years before, Princess Diana, Harrys mother also popularly known as the Princess of Wales suffered postpartum depression. This could have been triggered by her new role of adapting as a Princess in the world stage. “You’d wake up in the morning feeling you didn’t want to get out of bed, you felt misunderstood, and just very very low in yourself.” She admitted to self injuring but didn’t get any help. “When no one listens to you or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen. For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it’s the wrong help you’re asking for.” While she didn’t know what she was suffering from, she was under pressure to conform to a royal tradition of being seen to be a successful princess. Hers was not a smooth run like her sons because she was instead chastised for being unstable and an attention seeker. “I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother and princess of Wales.”
Kerry Washington aka problem solving Olivia Pope, the famous actor in the popular drama series Scandal also suffered depression triggered by her mother’s battle with breast cancer and eating disorders. The actress is keen to caution against stigma in mental health. “My brain and my heart are really important to me. I don’t know why I wouldn’t seek help to have those things be as healthy as my teeth. I go to the dentist. So why wouldn’t I go to a shrink?”
JK Rowling the famous author of Harry Potter grappled with clinical depression in her mid twenties. Her financial problems coupled with being left a single mother in the aftermath of a divorce triggered her disorder. She has acknowledged thoughts of suicide but eventually sought help for her daughters’ sake. “It’s not sadness, but it’s that cold absence of feeling……Inability to believe you will be happy again. All the colour drained out of life.” Writing became an outlet as she overcame depression. Rowling went on to become one of the most famous authors worldwide, selling over 400 million books.
Nearly half the United States presidents have suffered some form of mental illness. This discovery was made after psychiatrists analyzed presidential bibliographies between 1776 to 1974. They included the second president John Adams who had a history of irrational behaviour and emotional instability. Abraham Lincoln who once wrote to his law partner, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.” Franklin Pierce had major depressive disorder and suffered from alcohol dependence. All his children had died young. Due to the escalation of the Vietnam War, Lyndon B Johnson suffered manic episodes. His press secretary Bill Moyers said he would go within himself, “just disappear, morose, self pity, angry…he was a tormented man.” These are just some of the 49%.
Statesmen have not been spared mental illness either with Winston Churchill one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century being diagnosed by his doctor with bipolar disorder or manic depression. He exhibited symptoms such as an increased need to sleep, loss of appetite, little energy, few interests, lack of concentration and suicidal intentions. Churchill accepted this condition which he called the black dog and accomplished a lot despite his mental illness. Some say this could have been the secret to his success in navigating his country through radical periods. He beat the disorder by refusing to give up. This persistent attitude paid off and in later years, he survived on medication. His release was in the form of writing and painting, to keep the black dog at bay.
Perhaps due to stigma or lack of knowledge, no prominent people have come out to say they suffer depression in Kenya. Fortunately, the black dog which Churchill referred to has a collar. It’s manageable and treatable. However, the trick is in knowing how to put the leash back on when the dog breaks free.