The good that Robin Williams gave us is incalulable. He made us laugh when we felt like crying, and his movies gave us hope when we wanted to give up.
He put his heart into everything he did, including his work for St. Jude's Children's Hospital.
And we failed him. And we will continue to fail him.
It's no secret that he suffered from depression, an illness exacerbated by substance abuse (cocaine and alcohol). He was clean and sober from 1983 to 2003, and then started drinking again. He went through at least two stints of rehabilitation, one in 2006 and one earlier this year.
So where did we fail him?
First, by stigmatizing depression. It's an illness, and it is treatable. But our society usually doesn't want to look at it that way - we far prefer to see depression as a personal failing.
Come on, cheer up. Other people have it worse than you.
Smile! Do something fun!
Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone. (Ironic thing to tell a comedian, eh?"
Would you say this crap to a cancer patient? To a veteran who left two legs and an arm in Iraq?
But we'll feed this sort of happy-talk nonsense to someone who's depressed. Great thing to do - make them feel worse about themselves, and make it even harder to look for help, because it seems to be a tacit admission of weakness, and failure.
We do it because we don't want to have to care. We feel we have "compassion fatigue", and yet another thing to care about will just flat out take some of the fun from our lives. If we think the depressed folk can cure themselves, then, by gum - let 'em do it, if they're worthy!
And we're afraid that next year it might be us. If we ignore the possibility and the consequences, maybe that particular death angel will fly past our hiding place. Kind of like "don't ask, don't tell".
Insurance companies don't help, by the way. They'll pay for therapy for, say, six visits to a mental health professional. After that, you're on your own.
To make things worse, we support the efforts of those who would help a depressed person immolate himself with drugs and alcohol. We add tinder to the pyre.
How? We watch television programs supported by beer ads. Those cute Budweiser Clydesdales...they work for a company that provides the tools of self-destruction to thousands, maybe millions of people.
"Drink responsibly" is on every ad, yeah. But they want you to drink.
We've tolerated local legalization of marijuana. Instead of trying to limit the use of mind-altering substances, we're expanding it. Smart.
We tolerate politicians with a history of drug use. Anyone can make a mistake, but shouldn't our elected officials be held to a higher standard? Don't the responsibilities we place in their hands - our future, and our childrens' future - demand that they be better?
Or are we voting our pocketbook? Are we voting to be able to buy a new car every three years, when the warranty runs out?
We enjoy drug and drunkenness jokes in entertainment. Someone's high, and it's funny. A nondrinker gets "wasted", and it hilarious.
And we don't demand laws that would drastically diminish the drug trade. We don't pay for enough police, or for an educational system that would give kids hope for a future rather than the temptation of using or selling drugs. It's not that we're overtaxed. We simply would prefer to see the money used elsewhere.
Enjoy the highway beautification project, but don't take the inner-city offramp. You may not survive.
And so, dear Robin Williams, goodnight and goodbye.
We wish you hadn't died.
But we did nothing to protect your weakness, and we'll do nothing to protect those who fight the same demons.
Nor because we can't. Because it's not convenient, and we don't want to.
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