August 12, 2014
By Paul Gionfriddo, President/CEO of Mental Health America
Robin Williams’ tragic and untimely death after a decades-long battle against bipolar disorder reminds us that mental illnesses are all-too-often serious and life-threatening chronic diseases.
Mental illnesses—especially serious ones—rob us of our health and well-being. They present daily challenges that can sometimes overwhelm us. No one is immune to them. And no matter how many resources they have or how successful they may appear to be, they may not ultimately be able to overcome them.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t try. Despite his condition, Mr. Williams lived and worked productively for many years. He made us laugh and sometimes made us cry. He received accolades that many would envy.
But he also battled publicly every year for his health. He was open about his condition. He repeatedly and routinely sought out care and support from family, friends, and health professionals. And for a very long time, he won more skirmishes with his disease than he lost.
While he inspired us with his acting, his life should inspire us all in so many other ways.
It should inspire us to speak out against the stigma and discrimination so many with serious mental illnesses face, and instead see them for their strengths. It should inspire us to identify our needs and seek help at the earliest stages of any disease process. It should inspire us to fight for our overall health and well-being every day of our lives, even in the face of great challenges. And it should inspire us to believe that no matter how difficult those challenges may be, we can still work toward recovery.
The truth today is people too often lose battles to mental illnesses, which still subtract years and sometimes decades from life expectancy. Robin Williams’ death is a sad reminder of this.
But Robin Williams’ life reminds us that we can change this reality, by opening our minds (and wallets) to earlier detection and treatment for all mental illnesses, to coordinated health and behavioral health services, and to programs and strategies that lead to—and give everyone hope for—recovery.