Obviously, I love film. I have spent the past decade studying, practicing, thinking about, and writing about film. Through the years, however, I have noticed that the film world is a microcosm for many of the troubles that plague the world in general. It seems as if the film world takes these problems and amplifies them so we can see, through the struggles of our favorite actors and actresses, how many other, non-famous people, struggle as well.
When Robin Williams took his own life in August, I was reminded yet again that depression is one of these struggles. Consider, for instance, actors and actresses like Heath Ledger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Gwyneth Paltrow, who all battled depression at one time or another. Robin Williams was only the latest, and perhaps most prominent, in a long line of men and women who have lost the battle against the darkness of depression.
Robin Williams’ struggle with depression was a long one that he endured since at least the 1970s and 80s. The darkness that led him to take his life may have been deepened by his diagnosis of Parkinson’s, but had existed at least since the death of a close friend in the 1970s. It made itself known at other points in his life and film career, and resulted in a number of addictions in the 1970s and 1980s.
When I look at Robin Williams’ life and struggle with depression, I also see the connection that so often exists between depression and struggles with addiction.
I’ve written previously on this blog about the frequency with which actors and actresses seem to fall prey to addictions, like marijuana addiction, other drug addictions, or addictions to alcohol. The reasons that many film stars face addictions are varied. What I did not touch on was how often these addictions become intertwined with the presence of depression in their lives.
Robin Williams faced addiction throughout his life. These addictions included struggles with alcoholism and cocaine addiction. In order to try to overcome his attachment to these substances, he entered rehab several times, most recently in 2014 for help with alcoholism. It is impossible for us to know exactly how his depression and addiction were linked, but it is clear that the struggles were powerful and deep and that his suicide was ultimately a tragic result of being unable to overcome these battles.
When faced with the darkness of depression, sometime it is easier for people to fall into addiction because that addiction can mask the pain that depression brings. It is also possible that addictions give rise to depression. Regardless, we can see through Robin Williams’ life and death that the link between the two is strong, and that although it can be easy to judge others because of their struggles with addiction and depression, we should remember that they are human beings, facing struggles that, unless we have experienced them ourselves, we can never truly understand.