Time to end stigma of mental illness

The silver lining to the sad news of actor Robin Williams’ death may be that it will draw some much needed attention to the subject of depression, as well as mental illness in general.

It’s been an issue that we’ve long struggled with in our community, as those who provide help have faced budget cutbacks and funding shortages as they try to do life-saving work. Attempts to pass a mental health levy have always failed in Washington County, voted down by a mix of those who simply can’t afford to pay more taxes and those who don’t understand mental illness and how and why the community should help.

We hope that after the suicide of a public figure as beloved and likable as Williams, people may see that mental illness can really affect anyone. It isn’t something to be ashamed of, and to hide. We urge anyone who feels they may have clinical depression or other mental illness to let someone know and seek help. There is a way to feel better.

Locally, services can be found through the Washington County Behavorial Health Board, which can be reached at 374-6990. If you feel like you can’t call, confide in a friend or family member and have them reach out.

In the meantime, those who don’t suffer from a mental illness have their part to do as well. Many don’t really understand how something like depression takes hold and how it can affect a person. Following Williams’ death, at least one national newsman referred to him as a coward for taking his own life.

That kind of rhetoric is extremely damaging and only gives greater reason for those suffering silently to continue to do so rather than to risk reaching out. Williams was not a coward. He was someone suffering from a debilitating disorder who was in great pain and anguish. That can’t just be switched off. You can’t simply power through depression.

Comments like the one from the news personality come from a place of ignorance, but if you don’t understand mental illness, rather than making judgments, try to educate yourself. Learn about the effects, the solutions, and most importantly, know the signs so you may someday be able to help someone you know.