Robin Williams' death opens discussion of depression

The death of actor Robin Williams flooded social media with posts about loss and has helped open up a discussion about depression, mental health experts say.

“I notice in social media people really have a sense of loss, a sense of loss of Robin Williams and what he meant to them,” said John Petersen, psychologist at Family Psychology of South Bend. “What I'm noticing is a main discussion about the loss and then some discussion about depression and suicide.”

Williams was found in his home shortly before noon Monday. Police say the actor died of asphyxia due to hanging.

He recently sought treatment at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center to focus on his sobriety.

But Dr. Petersen said the period after rehab can be just as unstable.

“Some people are depressed, they have such low energy and become so passive that apparently they are at lower risk to actually carry out a plan,” he said. “But when they start to feel better and start to have energy, there's a slightly increased risk.”

Dr. Ahmed Elmaadawi, a psychiatrist with Beacon Medical Group Behavioral Health, trained at Hazelden and says comedy and depression sometimes go hand-in-hand.

“Many of my patients who are actually struggling with depression have a very good sense of humor,” Dr. Elmaadawi said. “But the problem is they sometimes cannot enjoy what they do."

When trying to help friends and love ones deal with depression, Dr. Petersen said appealing to a person’s faith can be helpful.

“Also, you can speak to their care for other people. If they’re very hopeless and they're not so concerned about their own death, they may still have concern about those who will survive them,” Petersen said.

Dr. Elmaadawi says it’s important not to be afraid of the stigma of depression.

“Organize your day more, decrease your stress level and if you’re still feeling like your sleep starts to be out of your normal routine, you may talk to your family doctor,” he said. “Our colleagues in primary care are all educated in how to spot depression early on.”


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