Like many of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Robin Williams in what seems to be an apparent suicide. This makes me sad for many reasons, as the characters that he played have been a part of life for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was such a huge fan of Mork & Mindy, I would put my Luke Skywalker action figure in one of those big plastic eggs that panty hose came in, just so I could pretend he was Mork...flying through space. If you're too young to remember that show, you really should check it out... Alladin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Popeye, Jumanji, Night at the Museum, RV, and those are just my favorites. He was a man of immense talent, and obvious personal pain.
The morning talk radio shows are already lighting up with thoughts on how this could have been prevented, on how someone that had so much going for them (at least as it appeared from the outside) could get to such a point of desperation that they would take their own life. These are not new thoughts, they are not new discussions. These are thoughts that all of us wrestle with when faced with the death of someone we love due to suicide.
These discussions are usually good, but I have already heard some idiocy in several of these discussions. First, for most of those that struggle with depression, this is not something that you can just will to go away. Depression is often caused by some chemical imbalances, or other natural issues within a person's body. It is not something ANYONE chooses to be afflicted with. It is a life-long struggle that ebbs and flows in both it's severity and duration of symptoms. Never assume that someone who struggles with depression has "beaten" the problem. As one who struggles with it personally, that is NOT the way it works.
Secondly, you need to be careful about what you SAY to people that struggle with depression. No, I'm not telling you to "tip-toe" around someone... I'm just asking you to THINK before you speak. Let me explain. For years, depression has been a taboo subject. Because people (even those who struggle with it) do not understand depression, it becomes the elephant in the room... the thing that we all know is there, but no one wants to acknowledge. You may have a connection to a person that needs someone to talk to. Often times, people with depression are ashamed of it, and out of fear will not reveal it to just anyone. If someone feels like they can open up to you about what they are dealing with, by all means, treat them with care and respect. If you respond to their pain with something that sounds clichéd or uncaring, you will very likely lose that connection right then and there. NEVER respond with something like "can't you just take a pill?" or "can't you just get over it?"...under ANY circumstance! Yes, there are avenues for help, but responses like this just make them feel even more ostracized and alone in their fight.
Third, learn to LISTEN. Too often, we do not take the time to really listen to what hurting people are telling us. Why? Well, I think it is because we become so busy in life that we do not take the time to really stop and help those in need. There are so many out there that need our help, that we become numb and desensitized to the need around us. Don't believe me? Think about the number of people you pass each day holding signs asking for help, or the amount of times you sneak past a neighbor or church friend because you just do not want to "deal" with their needs that day. We are all guilty of it. However, it is hugely important that we learn to HEAR the people that God allows to come into our lives. We may not be able to meet the needs of the entire world, but we are able to help meet the needs of those that God puts in our path each day. It's our decision to make...
Over the next few days and weeks, much will be discussed about the warning signs or pleas for help that were missed in Robin Williams' life. Some might even try to find someone to blame... that is human nature. However, the truth is that the only real hope for a person with depression, or any other issue, is a real relationship with Jesus Christ. The love and support from Christians point these folks to that relationship. You do not have to be a psychologist, you do not have to be a religious scholar... All you need is to have a close enough relationship with Jesus that you can sense His leading when it comes to ministering to hurting people around you. Love, Listen, and Think as you do ministry through the Holy Spirit. It's not about you "fixing" anything... it's about being Jesus to the world.