The unexpected death of Robin Williams, an incredibly talented comedian and actor, by suicide, has powerfully caught public attention. That a man at the top of his profession, with worldwide recognition, a loving family, and a deep well of creativity, would end his life in this way is clearly a great tragedy. We can only guess at the reason for his death at this point: that in the grip of a great desperation of the most devastating kind, he chose to end his life. There is a deep sadness that the desperation he felt was not alleviated and that the potential and gifts that he represented will no longer be graced and enjoyed by a wide audience. There is understandably great family and public grief as a result of his absence.
In the real world unexpected tragedies periodically happen around us, they stun us momentarily into disbelief and make us look for reasons and explanations. In a search to alleviate our discomfort we question and wonder how something like this could happen.
Yet, mental health professionals, families and friends, and the sufferers themselves continue to find ways of getting and offering help and support in situations and experiences that are complex. Unlike a physical disability or a physical illness, which are typically self-evident, mental illness is often hidden.
The other element our culture often does not acknowledge is that the ideal of perfection is an abstract goal. Our advertising industry and media of all kinds often refer to products, situations, investment, possessions of any kind, including relationships and indeed people themselves with overblown hyperbole.
We need heroes and we need to acknowledge achievement, but we also need to recognize vulnerabilities in everyday places. Our humanity and our history point to our fallibility something we often ignore.