Williams’ death reminds us success is no defense against depression

By Kevin Canessa Jr. 

Observer Correspondent 

Some of the comments were disturbing and beyond ignorant.

“But he was so good in ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ how could he ever be depressed?”

“He had so much money, what was there for him to be depressed over?”

“He was a funny and talented actor — there’s no logical reason whatsoever that he should have been depressed.”

And there were other comments that were worse, really. But these were the most stark, because it’s 2014, and there are, honestly, people in this world who do not understand depression.

It can hit anyone. Finances have no correlation to depression. It doesn’t always take bad experiences to make people depressed. And being a famous actor with immense worldly talent makes not one bit of difference.

I say this with authority because like Robin Williams — and millions of others in this country — I’ve been there before. There is nothing worse. And it doesn’t require a trigger to be set in motion.

The first time I recall being depressed, I was 14 and a freshman in high school. I recall waking up one day and – literally – not being able to get out of bed. Nothing but good things precipitated this. I was having the time of my life at a new school at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City. And the feeling was immense and outrageously intolerable.

On any given day, it could come and go — especially if funny things happened in a class. But without fail, by the time I was on the No. 22 bus heading from Journal Square back home to Kearny, it would resurface.

Occasionally, it would last weeks at a time. Sometimes less. Sometimes, more.

And yet here I was, in as positive an environment I could ask for — and the sadness, the dreariness, the feelings of despair, were so strong. And because this was 1989, there was nothing I could do, because no one talked about depression then, no one at school ever addressed the notion of depression and quite frankly, no one anywhere really thought it would be possible for a 14-year-old to be depressed — especially when everything else in life was otherwise fine.

This initial span lasted, on and off, until 1991, the beginning of my senior year of high school. It went away until around 1999 — and came back with vengeance.

But being older, and sick and tired of its effects, I did something about it. First, I confided in a friend about it. It was the most important conversation I’ve ever had, because for the first time ever, someone else knew what I was going through. And this person constantly kept on me about it — and still does to this day.

The next thing I did was acknowledging I had an illness by seeing a doctor for help. I went for a visit to the late Dr. Peter Taddio in Kearny, and immediately, he put me at ease. He gave me his ear. And he prescribed me a medication that, quite frankly, I believe saved my life.

First it was Zoloft, and then it was Cymbalta. Zoloft didn’t work for me. It works for others. But Cymbalta did. It changed everything.

It seems a lot of people who suffer from depression keep their illness deeply secretive. Though he wasn’t exactly secret about his illness, I wonder how much people really knew about the depth of Williams’ depression just before he took his own life. Because the truth is, if there were even just one person who knew how badly things were going, I can’t imagine something couldn’t have been done to help Williams.

Perhaps it’s the stigma. Perhaps it’s that many don’t realize it’s actually an illness, one that’s biologically based. Perhaps it’s a myriad of reasons. But way too often, in this country, people with any kind of mental illness don’t do enough to get help, whether it’s taking medication or seeking psychological help — or a combination of both.

Whatever the reason is, most vitally, people who don’t suffer from depression need to understand the severity of the problem. It could be someone in your family. It could be a spouse. Worse, it could be your child. And with that realization comes the responsibility to do something to help. Because far too often, it’s so bad for the sick person that nothing gets done at all.

The day Robin Williams took his own life, it was so brutal, so horrid, that he made the decision that being dead would be the far better option than remaining alive without someone’s help.

There were others in the house the day Williams died — his wife included — and the chances are they were unaware of just how serious the scope of his depression really was.

If one person — one — had known, perhaps he’d still be alive today.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

But it’s the most overt sign that depression can and does affect all types of lives.

It could affect a 14-year-old high school student. It could affect a 63-year-old world-famous comedian and actor. It could affect someone sitting in the same room as you as you read this.

And frankly, it’s up to all of us to admit there’s a huge problem in this country with depression. And it’s up to all of us, once and for all, to do something about it.

Before another life ends far too soon than it should have.

The Observer Staff