The news of Robin Williams committing suicide recently was shocking. Shocking because we grew up laughing with him and shocking because we thought he had it all. From the outside he had the talent, the wealth, the loving family and friends and the fame. But did he have his health? At the time of writing, it would seem from early reports that Williams was suffering from severe depression, when he took his own life. So it would be fair to say, the man was in a poor state of mental health when he died.

And yet, why do we find it so hard to talk about? Why do we have a different attitude, from someone that has cancer, from someone suffering from a bi-polar condition?

Beautiful man.

I’m not sure but I suspect it derives from fear, a social stigma that’s gone on for centuries and a lack of understanding. I don’t have the definitive answers but I can however, share my own experiences. I’ve suffered two serious bouts of severe depression in my life and there may well be more to come. Each episode lasted roughly a year and both occasions were the toughest times of my life.

I would say my depression is triggered by circumstances, usually sparked by a major personal disappointment. And that manifests in to blame and regret, which then turns in to self-loathing and no self-esteem. I then withdraw from people, places and lie in my bed in the morning (having not slept), afraid and fearful to face the world. I lose my appetite and the things that used to excite me; work, football and most painfully, family and friends, no longer appeal. I’m in a dark hole and it feels like it’s getting deeper by the minute.

My first episode was as a result of a breakdown when my band split up. When I took myself off to therapy, I realised it was so much more than that. Events and traumatic episodes had been pushed aside and with the band no longer there to paper over the cracks, it was all coming to the surface; previous relationships, dynamics in the family, my own relentless drive to stay busy and high all the time. I crashed and looking back, it was always going to happen.

The second was last year, when we were hit by several losses within the family. And again, I was crushed by the weight of my own expectation and disappointment. It was harder this time, as I was presenting a daily radio show and the pressure of ‘putting on a face’ and pretending to be happy was exhausting. I remember just wishing it was over, convinced the listeners could feel my pain, desperate to get home and hide from the world.

I climbed out of that hole, with the help of anti-depressants, therapy and amazing support from my wife, in particular, my family and friends. I’m now in a good place but I’m always wary of the return of my illness. I spoke about mindfulness in my blog a few weeks ago and the response was amazing. That is really helping. For me it’s being aware of the warning signs, taking care of yourself and accepting that difficult feelings will come and go and life still has plenty more highs and lows to come. It’s how you deal with them.

As much as I hated my depression at the time, it made me stop unhealthy patterns and behaviour and it forced me to take a new approach to my life. It was a necessary evil, in order for me to grow, learn and evolve as a healthy minded human. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but I’d do it all again, if it taught me the lessons I learnt. Good can come from depression. I firmly believe it’s your mind’s way of saying, ‘this isn’t working for you, you need to change.’

So if you’re suffering from depression, reach out, you are not alone. If you had flu, you’d stick it on facebook and look for sympathy. So why not be as open with a mental illness?

If one good thing can come of Robin Williams death and the countless number of other people who could see no way out, it’s that it’s got us talking and talking can save lives.

Take care of yourselves.