Depression is not a laughing matter: What we can take from Robin Williams

The video above features Kevin Briggs, a retired California Highway Patrol Officer who spent 23 years monitoring the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Since its opening in 1937, 1,600 people have leapt to their death from the bridge. Officer Briggs has responded to hundreds of mental illness and suicide calls on the bridge and lost only two. Trained by psychologists, he lists the following as signs of suicide:

  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Belief that things are terrible and never going to get better
  • Belief that there is nothing you can do about it
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in life

In the talk, he speaks of a man who paced the bridge in March of 2005. After one and a half hours of conversation, the man chose life. When Briggs asked why he made the decision to come back he responded, “You listened. You let me speak, and you just listened.” That was all it took. The overall message of the talk parallels the Golden Gate Bridge to the interpersonal connections- or bridges- we make in life. No matter who we are or how unimportant we may be, we can all strive to make the bridge.

Over the weekend I got to see Kemba Walker, someone I hold in the highest regard- not for his athletic achievements but rather his tireless work ethic and way he handles himself. Although he had posed for hundreds of pictures that day, and was enjoying his only downtime of a busy weekend, he happily agreed to take a picture with me. In the tenth of a second it took to click the camera button, I had a memory I will take with me for life. That was all it took. I am Kemba Walker to someone. You are Kemba Walker to someone. It may be a sibling, friend, teammate, co-worker- it doesn’t matter. You can make a difference and it only takes a split second. Yes, it may make you uncomfortable at first but not nearly as uncomfortable as a life spent battling depression. The lifelong regret of what you could have done is far worse than momentary discomfort.

Robin Williams was a wildly successful Academy Award winning actor and comedian.  Too often in life success is measured by status- how much money we make, what kind of car we drive and how big our house is. But what if we measured success in a different way?

To laugh often and love much:
To win respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give one’s self;
To leave the world a little better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch,
Or redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived…
This is to have succeeded. 

If you are funny, make people laugh. If you have a nice smile, smile at people. If you have money, give to people who don’t. But most importantly, listen. We can all do that.

As we are reminded by Williams’ passing, depression can affect anyone at anytime- from those who have nothing to those who seemingly have it all. It is our job as friends and family to act before depression reaches hopelessness. If you or someone you know is battling depression, visit this website. Suicide is quick, suicide is easy, but above all, suicide is preventable.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

RIP 3/13/14


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