When Robin Williams passed away a few weeks ago, it was a sad day for Hollywood, as he was arguably one of the most gifted and unique performers our industry has seen this century. Not only was he an exceptional comedian who took risks that comedians like me only dream of taking, but he was able to cross over as a dramatic actor and garner critical acclaim for his diverse body of serious work as well.
The loss of Robin Williams was personally upsetting as well, not only because I was a huge fan of his work from the 1970s on, and not only because the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” was able to spend time with him as a member of the CBS family when his show first started on our network a few years ago, but it was personally upsetting because there are people in my life who suffer from the kind of mental illness that Robin Williams suffered from. It is truly tragic to hear that someone has lost his battle with mental illness.
I try to use my platform as a writer here at Kveller.com to take part in tikkun olam, or repairing the world, by sharing things I feel can help others. I never wrote about what it was like to get a divorce, for example, but I chose to write a four-part series exclusively for this website about the challenges of being a Jewish divorcee in hopes that I could give support, education, and resources to women who might be similarly struggling. I don’t believe actors should vomit their lives and feelings onto blogs simply because we can. It’s not my style and never will be.
That being the case, I won’t describe my interactions with Robin Williams or claim to have any knowledge about what he was truly like based on those interactions with him. What I want to do instead is to give my modest answer to the question so many of us have been asking since his passing. It is the same question that has been asked after the deaths of many greats who have taken their lives because of battles with mental illness. Similarly, this question is asked–and ought to be asked–when individuals, famous and not, succumb to death by alcoholism or drug overdose.
The question is: Is there anything we can we do? To make it not happen anymore, to help young people especially who are struggling. Is there any action we can take to make this problem go away, or at best, lessen?
Curing mental illness and eliminating the need that humans have to dull their pain with alcohol, drugs, and other addictions is a daunting task. It takes government structures and a global awareness of mental illness that will eliminate the stigma against even talking about it, which still seems difficult sometimes.
What I have come to learn is that wherever there are individuals who struggle with mental illness or addiction, they are surrounded by family and friends who also need support but rarely get any.
There is an organization called NAMI which is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I have benefited from the resources, services, and support of this incredible nonprofit organization, as have thousands of people. NAMI is a nationwide organization that advocates for legislation to protect and support people with a mental illness. They provide free lectures and counseling in cities all across the country for individuals with a mental illness and the people who love them. The NAMI here in Southern California features monthly lectures by psychiatrists and lawyers who dedicate and donate their time to answer questions that family and friends have about mental illness and how to advocate for their loved ones to get them the help that they need. NAMI also establishes free support groups where you can meet other people who have situations similar to yours so that you can get specific help and guidance regarding your loved one who might be struggling or fighting for their life because of mental illness.
I donate to NAMI several times a year and I just sent in my donation to sponsor someone who has given me a lot of guidance as he walks to raise funds for this incredible organization.
Chances are very good that you know someone affected by mental illness. There is something you can do about it. If your state has a NAMI Walk planned for this year, consider participating so you can be a part of the solution. Or donate to someone walking and let NAMI continue to help people. To find out more or to be helpful or helped, I urge you to visit NAMI’s website: www.nami.org.