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article imageOp-Ed: Robin Williams' death should prompt help for men with depression

By Calvin Wolf     Aug 13, 2014 in Health
The tragic loss of famed actor and comedian Robin Williams has left many wondering how such a vibrant, funny man could have been depressed. While most examine comedy and depression, we should examine masculinity and depression.
Depression is not a fun subject. We avoid discussing clinical depression because it is uncomfortable, personal, and difficult to understand. The tragic death of famed actor and comedian Robin Williams has shocked the world, with millions wondering how such a vibrant and funny man could have been so depressed as to take his own life. Right now we are examining the uncomfortable links between comedy and depression, troubled by the knowledge that some of the most witty and exuberant people are using their talents as a defense mechanism against an inner darkness.
We wonder how those who seem most active and daring, the lives of the parties, could be hiding suicidal ideation. How could they be in such pain when they are so adored by many?
But, going beyond contemplating how depression can strike those who are the life of the party, we should contemplate a more troubling statistic: 78.5 percent of suicide victims are men, writes Terrie M. Williams on CNN. Why are men so overrepresented among the victims of suicide?
Men are often forced to suffer depression in silence, worried about harmful stigma should they announce their condition. Masculine norms keep men from speaking out, seeking help, or complaining. A man who admits he feels depressed and is struggling will likely be deemed weak by many. Or, perhaps worse, he may be deemed a threat, someone who might "snap." The gender differences in regard to depression and stigma are staggering and cost many lives.
For example, jobs that are traditionally more masculine, ranging from law enforcement, intelligence, and military work to heavy equipment operation and being a pilot, may formally sanction any applicant or existing employee who admits to having been depressed and/or received any sort of treatment or counseling. These individuals, overwhelmingly male, may find themselves denied employment, security clearances, or the ability to remain on duty. Consequently, many will lie and never seek treatment. They worry about formal sanctions, many of which may be unjustified, and being seen as "not a man."
How many men might have been saved if they had felt safe to seek counseling, treatment, medication? How many have taken their own lives after a period of darkness they were afraid to treat, lest it establish a permanent record saying this man is a liability?
Men need a safe place to seek help for depression and more protections from potentially losing their jobs and their livelihoods. "Masculine" jobs should not stigmatize seeking, or having sought, treatment for depression or mental illness. We should actively combat the society-wide masculine ideal that "being a man" means never asking for help. Clinical depression has struck many of the toughest men, ranging from decorated combat veterans to professional athletes to leaders of nations.
Sadly, too many of those men felt they could not speak up. At least, not until it was too late.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about robin williams suicide, Robin williams, Depression, Men's health, Masculinity
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