Robin Williams' suicide this week shook up people across the political spectrum -- and for good reason. When a highly successful, incredibly popular figure from our culture decides to take his own life, it feels as though suicide could happen to anyone.
Robin Williams reportedly suffered from mentally illness. He stated during an interview in 2006 that he hadn't been formally diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, but stated, "Do I perform sometimes in a manic style? Yes. Am I manic all the time? No. Do I get sad? Oh yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh yeah." He added, "I get bummed, like I think a lot of us do at certain times. You look at the world and go, 'Whoa.' Other moments you look and go, 'Oh, things are OK.'" That same year, according to the Huffington Post, he explained the temptation of alcoholism -- he had famously admitted to drug and alcohol addiction problems -- to Diane Sawyer. "It's the same voice thought that ... you're standing at a precipice and you look down, there's a voice and it's a little quiet voice that goes, 'Jump.'"
Williams' death has spurred multiple writers and celebrities to announce their own struggles with such issues; virtually every family has suffered through the horrors of mental illness. My grandfather was diagnosed with bipolar disorder decades ago, and routinely battled suicidality until his introduction to lithium.
Raising awareness is praiseworthy - the stigma attached to getting help for mental illness should be wiped away as soon as possible.
By the same token, we ought to ensure that normalizing mental illness helps no one, and damages those who truly are mentally ill. The lack of awareness surrounding mental illness comes from two directions: first, those who pretend that mental illness represents a lack of willpower or dedication; second, those who pretend that serious mental illnesses are not mental illnesses at all, but representations of free thought and behavior. Forty years ago, the first group predominated; today, the second does.
Forty years ago, men and women feared career destruction should rumors spread that they were seeing psychologists or psychiatrists. That fear has largely dissipated. But a new threat to the well-being of those suffering from mental illness has replaced the original threat: the threat of diversity campaigners leaving those with mental illness to suffer in the name of heterogeneity.