Deadly Depression

Robin Williams DepressionWe just looked at the stats. 25 million Americans will suffer this year from depression. Only half will get treatment.

With the loss of the sensitive, suffering, generous genius named Robin Williams, there is an opportunity to talk about this.

Can we agree to remove the stigma that we place on people who seek mental health care?

Can we finally agree to give every one of our citizens full access to, and encouragement to seek, whatever kind of health care they need?

Can we finally agree that there are plenty of ways to make money without gotcha accommodations to specific health insurance policies, and ultimately, provisions for non-medical types to pocket profits because someone else needs health care services?

Do we as a society need, and can we morally justify, a health care system that is, at its core, based on profits and only provides care if some investor can collect a dividend?

And can we justify obscenely bloated salary and perk packages to health care executives who manipulate the care that is given, and denied, for the purpose of maximizing profits?

Sure, we now have a rudimentary Obamacare. And a long way to go.

And sure, Robin Williams had money. But plenty of other Americans do not. You can bet that most Americans who suffer from depression have had their talents and their employability held back by it, and that has constrained their earning power.

And sure, Robin Williams had money. But plenty of other Americans do not. You can bet that most Americans who suffer from depression have had their talents and their employability held back by it, and that has constrained their earning power.

The same goes for physical injuries that reduce earning power. We don’t stigmatize that, though we still don’t do a good job fixing it.

The overriding point is, when will we as a society decide to empower all our citizens to achieve all they can — by realizing that a key determinant is serving their health care needs?

Depression can kick people to the curb. So can living with painful or debilitating physical injuries. And the two can be closely related. Plus, it extends beyond the patient to their family who must face questions and uncertainties and emotional agonies.

And ultimately, it extends to all of us. Because all of us pay the price in lost productivity, lost creativity, lost innovation.

Sometimes, we feel it as shock and loss to our culture. More often, it happens quietly, even silently, all around us.

For those fixated on money, consider this: kicking people to the curb comes at a price in lost GDP and in effort lost from primary productive activities.

larry-winesAt the high end of Hollywood projects, Robin Williams’ movies have grossed over $5 billion dollars. Many more millions will be made when his final four films are eventually released. After that, there will be untold lost revenue from all the other things his energetic genius would have produced for Hollywood’s capitalists to market.

At the other end of the economy, how much revenue and profit are lost every day because a plumber’s hand injuries won’t allow turning a wrench, because a teacher is too depressed to face an overcrowded classroom, because insurance won’t approve a procedure that could get a carpenter back on the job? How many remain unemployed because the carpal tunnel they developed on the last job make another employer unwilling to take a chance on them?

With hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans now in or seeking to enter the work force, can we afford to stigmatize the long term psychological needs and traumatic brain injuries many of them bring home? Or do we refuse to hire all of them rather than risk the cost of workplace disruption that accompanies the needs of some when they seek care — or attempt to function without it?

Needed care that, with the present system, is expensive, not always readily available, and must be secretly sought in some cases due to employer standards?

We have lost, to deadly depression, the genius that was Robin Williams.

larry-wines-formalHow many more of our people, known and unknown, with talents proven or promised, must we lose because we don’t believe in treating injured, hurting, suffering people, and because we play games with what ailments are acceptable to our sensibilities, and which ones make the sufferer a pariah?

With the death of Robin Williams, the door is open — slightly. Until something else distracts us. Until we lose another celebrity.

Larry Wines


  1. R Zwarich says

    I certainly agree with Mr. Wines’ plaintive and clearly heartfelt plea that medical assistance should be made available to anyone suffering in the throes of depression. The suffering that deeply depressed people experience is recognized as among the worst pains possible, often exceeding the severe physical pain associated with some medical conditions. People who have never experienced the pangs of deep depression cannot possibly imagine the ‘hell’ that deeply depressed people live in, (and hopefully through, though in Mr. Williams case, he clearly did not).

    What we must recognize, however, is that clinical depression is very hard to treat. One out of every ten Americans are currently taking an antidepressant drug, but recent studies are very discouraging, as they indicate that in mild, moderate, and even severe cases of depression, these drugs have been proved, in double blind studies, to have no more effect than a placebo. Only in cases of the most extreme depression, can these drugs be shown to have more efficacy than a placebo, and even in those cases the advantage over a placebo is not overly large.

    One in ten Americans are being treated for depression. How many more are depressed but not being treated? I think we have to ask ourselves why so many people in our times are struggling with despair. It this a natural phenomenon? Is it natural for over 10% of individuals, (10% being treated, who knows how many suffering), to be experiencing depression at any given time? Is this typical of the human experience? Would we find over 10% of any population of people depressed in any era? Or is there something characteristic of our environment that is causing this?

    It’s been quite a long time since I last encountered the term ‘Weltschmerz’, but it suddenly springs to mind. Weltschmerz is a German word coined as a name for the concept of a socially shared sense, a shared mental condition, of sadness and pain. The word translates roughly to “world pain”, or “world sadness”. Every day we are forced to confront a world that seems to be insane, and growing more so all the time. We have seen the public death of honor, as lies have become routine from our most prominent people. We have come to regard as routine the sight of truth stood on its head. As Orwell predicted, up is claimed to be down, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and reality is tenuous and inconvenient, to be ignored when it counters a desired purpose, and cited passionately if it happens to serve that purpose. Yeats’ words could have been written yesterday, when he wrote: “The best lack all conviction. The worst are full of passionate intensity”.

    As a progressive community, we conjure a shared sense of hope that somehow we can make a better world. Is this shared hope not the glue that holds us together, not only as a community, but also as individuals who must struggle to remain sane amidst the pervasive insanity? Where would any of us be without the hope we share with others? Which of us has not sometimes lost her or his grip on that sense of hope? Which of us has not felt the inexorable pull toward hopeless despair? It is our community that sustains us when our grip is weak, and our fear of losing it grows strong, as we consciously reconjure hope together, and feed it to one another, to sustain our spirits.

    Is depression a biological disease? Or is it a spiritual disease, rooted in a failure to sustain a sense of hope? No one knows, of course. When antidepressants were newer, depression was touted by the medical establishment as a biological disease, and they had just the medicine to fix it. Now that we know that these medicines are mostly ineffective, I wonder what they are saying?

    Many years ago, (half my lifetime ago), life handed me some very difficult spiritual blows, and for a time my spirit was broken. My beloved children were already born, else I have my doubts that i would have survived. A dear friend could see I was close to that edge, and pulled my coat to say, “Don’t you DARE! Your children are going to NEED you!”. And that thought haunted me enough, even in the blackness of despair, that I forced myself to keep living. To pick up a foot, and put it down, when doing so to cross a room seemed like an immensely foolish and impossible task. So it was for my children I kept going. I made myself stay alive, and I am very glad for it, of course, (and I’m reasonably certain they are as well. LOL).

    I never believed the biological disease explanation of depression. I always knew the pain I had was not created in my brain chemistry. My neurotransmitters may have been badly screwed up, but that was the result of, not the cause of, this pain I felt.

    Anyway…..As a person who once knew the full extent of the black pain of this disease, I believe that it is a social disease. It is a failure of our community efforts to sustain each other. When some are cut loose from their community, and find themselves adrift, reeling dizzily, with no sense of up or down, or truth or lies, they often fall into a dark lonely pit where the light of hope cannot enter. I believe that in our times we are in the grip of Weltschmerz. A shared social sadness, a sense of pain, that threatens us all. We must recognize this. We must hold to one another with the awareness that we depend on each other for our very survival. We never know when a blow might send us reeling, but when such a blow comes, we will need a community to sustain us.

    The world is insane. Surely few of us would argue that. As progressives we believe that we can save it. We believe that we can bring it to its good senses. We believe that our children can live in a community that sustains their hope.

    It’s very likely few, if any of us knew Robin Williams. (My younger sister actually went to high school with him). But he was a person who touched all of us, and now all of us share the sadness of his death. Those of us who ever experienced the pain of deep despair, understand the pain that killed him. May his more hopeful spirit rest in peace.


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