The circumstances that bring about a national conversation on mental health are almost never good. Most recently, the apparent suicide Tuesday of actor and comedian Robin Williams touched off a discussion among our readers on depression. In the past, mass shootings of children and theater-goers prompted earnest letters on treating people with mental illnesses.
For now, much-needed attention is being paid to this issue. But if past tragedies are a guide, the discussion will probably fade over time until it is barely audible, only to be amplified by the next shock.
FOR THE RECORD:
Robin Williams: The introduction in Saturday's Mailbag column incorrectly said Robin Williams died Aug. 12. In fact, Williams died Aug. 11.
Here is what some readers are saying about mental health and depression after Williams' death.
Cynthia Ingersoll of Sultan, Wash., explains the loneliness of depression:
Depression: It's so deep inside. No one can touch it.
Some days are unexplainable, when you have harmony with the Earth, racking your mind as to why — and knowing your crash awaits. It's lonely as hell.
I don't dismiss hope for a personal cure; I just want to share the unreal depth that embraces these sad souls who have survived countless years of secrets.
Thank you, Robin Williams, for possibly creating an awareness that yes, this can happen to someone as magnificent as you.
Addictions and mental health counselor Ken Donaldson of Seminole, Fla., says we can stop this problem:
In 2009, there were about 36,500 suicides in the U.S. and "only" 16,500 homicides. Yet we hear about the murders but not so much about the suicides (until someone like Williams dies).
Likewise, we seldom see any headlines about depression, but depression affects nearly 15 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the population age 18 and older, in a given year. People who think depression is a choice are wrong (and often judgmental). Depression is no more a choice than baldness. However, I can get a hair transplant, but I can't get a brain transplant.
And then there's addiction. Let's just start bysaying that the abuse of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs costs more than $600 billion annually due to crime, lost work productivity and healthcare. But again, we seldom hear about addiction unless someone is glamorized.
When will we be proactive and create some preventive measures? This is all treatable and preventable.
Los Angeles resident Wendy Werris says Williams wasn't alone:
There is a precedent, of course, for Williams' suicide: Comedian and actor Freddie Prinze, who starred in the hit TV series "Chico and the Man," killed himself in 1977 at the age of 22.
Comedy, depression and substance abuse have an attraction to one another. My father was a comedy writer who used vodka and a barbiturate to get through his days. Thankfully, he didn't commit suicide.
Williams' death is surely a tragedy, but it did not come as a shock to me. I hope it shames our culture into taking depression seriously.