I, like many of you, have spent this week going about my daily tasks with Robin Williams and the tragedy that occurred Monday constantly in my thoughts. I have thought about the hopelessness and the exhaustion he must have felt after struggling for more than 30 years with clinical depression and addiction. And while suicide is never the answer, to demonize the act does no one any good. Rather than blaming and shaming, we need to have sensitivity and empathy. Not one of us knows what it is like to be another person.
I have also spent quite a lot of time thinking about the mission of Health Affiliates Maine, and how very true and real it is that all people struggle, at one time or another in their life, with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Even people who seem to have it all, like Robin Williams, can suffer. This is because, just like cancer or other medical conditions, mental illness is a disease. It is not anything that someone has control over. To say to Robin Williams, “what do you have to be depressed about, you have it all?” is a clear indication that mental illness is still an enigma to most people. Likewise, substance abuse is seen often times in the same light, where it is easier to tell someone to “just stop” not understanding how the brain has been affected, and that in fact, has a disease.
In remembrance of Robin Williams, and in tribute to him, I want to thank all of our staff and providers for the work that you do every day with people who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. After a couple of days of feeling frozen with sadness, I am now feeling a renewed energy about our mission and vision. We must robustly continue our efforts in educating our families, neighborhoods, co-workers, and the general community that it is normal to experience times when we feel less mental wellness, when we feel vulnerable psychologically, and when we need the support of others, including professionals. We all have a part in this, whether in the “field” or not, we have resources at our fingertips. We need to accept people for their reality and offer hope through our knowledge and connections. Let’s reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse by talking about it openly, and providing education and resources.
If a loved one came to you and said they had cancer, would you ask them if they had an oncologist? If a loved one comes to you and says they are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, ask them if they have a provider. If they don’t, help them find one.
Andrea Krebs, LCSW
Health Affiliates Maine