by Meghan Krein
“What could he possibly have to be depressed about? He has absolutely everything anyone could ask for.” It’s a common misconception: assuming just because someone appears to have everything going for them – whether it be wealth, a successful career, or the perfect family – they’re not subject to problems with mental health.
This week, according to CNN, we learned actor Robin Williams, 63, was found dead at his home in Northern California. The reported cause is asphyxia and police are handling it as a suicide. Williams’ media representative, Maria Buxbaum, told CNN that Williams has been “battling severe depression as of late.” CNN also reported that Williams had checked himself into rehab for substance abuse problems, including recently this summer.
What is Depression?
So what is depression? The National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH] describes it as a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Clearly, we all feel sad at times, but when someone is clinically depressed, it interferes with their life and the lives of their loved ones. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown that the brains of depressed individuals differ from those of non-depressed individuals. The parts of the brain controlling mood, thought processes, sleep, appetite and behavior are affected.
Types of Depression:
- • Major Depression — severe symptoms that interfere with sleep, work and overall ability to enjoy life. An episode can occur once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, several episodes occur.
- • Persistent Depressive Disorder — depressed mood, lasting for at least two years.
- • Psychotic Depression — severe depression, in addition to some form of psychosis.
- • Postpartum Depression — experienced by some women after giving birth while going through hormonal and physical changes in addition to overwhelming thoughts of caring for a newborn.
- • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — characterized by the onset of depression in the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight.
NIMH reports that major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, with 6.7 percent of U.S. adults diagnosed each year.
Other Cases of Celebrities Battling Depression
No matter how common, it still seems to shock us to our core when a celebrity reveals a mental illness or commits suicide. At the same time, more and more have recently been coming out to share their mental illness with the public, in hopes of lessening the stigma.
According to PsychCentral, the pressures of public life often make coping with mental illness more difficult. Denial and the need to fulfill high-profile demands can be compounded by the fear of shame and scrutiny. Many celebrities fear consequences that may come with admitting something isn’t right and seeking help.
Actor Owen Wilson not only had comedy in common with Williams, but also a history of depression and substance abuse. In 2007, according to People, Wilson attempted suicide at his home. But, with the support of his family and friends was able to recover.
Postpartum depression hit actress Gwyneth Paltrow after the birth of her son, Moses back in 2006. “I felt like a zombie,” she told Good Housekeeping, “I couldn’t access my emotions.” Initially Paltrow didn’t know what was wrong, “I thought postpartum depression meant you were sobbing every day and incapable of looking after a child.”
Recognizing the Symptoms of Depression
Although we often see celebrities in the light of perfection, it’s important to note they are human and may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, including depression. Some symptoms of depression, according to NIMH, include:
- • Feelings of persistent sadness, anxiety or emptiness
- • Feelings of hopelessness
- • Irritability
- • Loss of enjoyment in activities that were once enjoyable
- • Lethargy
- • Trouble concentrating
- • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- • Suicidal ideation
- • Psychosomatic pains
If someone you know is suffering from depression, remember never to dismiss feelings or to judge and offer support. If you are feeling depressed, don’t wait to get help. And try to be active and patient with yourself. A helpful resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.