Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Comment on Depression and “RIP Robin Williams”

I tried to post my below comment under Keln’s “RIP Robin Williams” article, but it was rejected for – get this – excessive length. I am knock-the-wind-out-of-me-surprised, and obviously I’m lying about that, i.e. "you've been warned". So here’s what I intended to say:

Keln, love ya but I have to agree with Arik regarding depression.   

In your defense, however, our society has so completely confused the definitions of "unhappy" and "depressed" that almost everyone uses them incorrectly, by which I mean "interchangeably", which they're NOT.

I'd explain further, except that Dr. Theodore Dalrymple has already done a far better than I could ever hope to, so I'll instead just throw out some excerpts and links. But first, I want to reassure you that aside from the "depression / unhappiness" angle, your post was pretty much spot-on. The man who "has everything" can indeed find life empty.

Here we go... starting with an excerpt from "The Frivolity of Evil"

"There is something to be said here about the word "depression," which has almost entirely eliminated the word and even the concept of unhappiness from modern life.


A ridiculous pas de deux between doctor and patient ensues: the patient pretends to be ill, and the doctor pretends to cure him. In the process, the patient is willfully blinded to the conduct that inevitably causes his misery in the first place. I have therefore come to see that one of the most important tasks of the doctor today is the disavowal of his own power and responsibility. The patient's notion that he is ill stands in the way of his understanding of the situation, without which moral change cannot take place. The doctor who pretends to treat is an obstacle to this change, blinding rather than enlightening."


"I have noticed the disappearance of the word 'unhappy' from common usage, and its replacement by the word 'depressed.' While unhappiness is a state of mind that is clearly the result of the circumstances of one's life, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by circumstances beyond one's control, or a mixture of both, depression is an illness that is the doctor's responsibility to cure. This is so, however one happens to be leading one's life. And the doctor, enjoined to pass no judgment that could be interpreted as moral on his patients, has no option but to play along with this deception. The result is the gross over-prescription of medication, without any reduction in unhappiness."


"All this was just as superstitious as magical incantations ever were. The idea that Prozac (and drugs still to come) would solve all of life’s little problems was no more realistic than the following, which I found in John Aubrey’s Miscellanies upon the Following Subjects: Omens, Dreams, Apparitions, Voices, Impulses, Knockings, Blows Invisible, Prophesies etc., published first in 1696 (my edition is the second, of 1721): To cure the Biting of a Mad Dog, Write these Words in Paper, Viz.: Rebus Rubus Epitescum, and give it to the Party, or Beast bit, to eat in Bread. A Gentleman of good Quality, and a sober grave Person, did affirm, that this Receipt never fails.


Unfortunately, Prozac came on to the market just at the time when another product of a rather crude and reductive theory, or attitude, the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, became the object of almost universal superstitious awe and veneration..."

If anyone reading this doesn't know who Dr. Theodore Dalrymple is, I beg you to please read "Why Theodore Dalrymple is For All Time"


I am reminded of something that is either a Dalrymple quote, or someone's summation of one of his views (I don't remember which), that I've found helpful even though from time to time I've utterly failed to apply it correctly in my own life:

"If you look up one day to find that you're a miserable screw-up, work to stop being a screw-up first and you should soon find yourself no longer miserable."

(FWIW - I am not a doctor, your mileage may vary.)

If you're down in the dark black pits of despair, and you know why - i.e. you have a definite identifiable reason (regardless of fault or blame) - then you're probably just very unhappy, and furthermore "unhappiness" is probably the logical, sane response (as are unhappiness' close cousins "extremely annoyed", "frustrated beyond belief" and "epically pissed"). Who knows? You might even be ANGRY.

But if all things (Real World Meaning: "most things" or "the important stuff") are basically going well in your life and you can't pin down what's causing your misery - i.e. if it seems "origin-less" - then you may indeed be clinically depressed, and should seek competent medical help.

I guarantee you I'm over-simplifying things, probably drastically so, but you've got to start somewhere... 

I would probably be committing a moral crime if I failed to point out two rather famous views which are at least tangential to the subject, and while seemingly in opposition they are actually in agreement:

Ecclesiastes (and I mean "the whole book", starting at chapter 1)
1 Corinthians 13 (the "Love" chapter)

At the risk of sounding "preachy", I'd encourage/challenge everyone including non-Christians and Atheists to at least read and attempt to glean the wisdom inherent in these two items. You don't have to agree, but I think you'd benefit from understanding the "why" as it relates to these wonderful monsters we call "humans".


It will be awhile before I miss Robin Williams... but that day will certainly come. I know this, because prior to his death I was already missing who he used to be. 

May God watch over his family, comfort them in their time of need, and protect them from thoughtless and unkind words from people like me.


  1. Guys, I was not saying that depression doesn't have a biological component. I was saying it has a spiritual one too. The whole, obviously badly written, article was in response to people all over the internet saying "he had everything" because he was rich, famous, etc. I never said he should have just rubbed some dirt on it or some such thing, just that he was spiritually poor (based on his own admissions).

  2. I hope that his sad final act might be given a little meaning in the form of discussion on depression, that more might understand what we go through.

    But I suspect that will end up much the way our "national discussion on race" turned out.

    Sorry for the language at the link, but this is one of the best things on the topic I've ever seen. I look at almost every one of the pictures and go, "yes, yep, uh-huh."


    1. If I could add one to those, I would say that it feels like a trillion ton boulder sitting on my chest, crushing, squeezing, suffocating. The thought of tomorrow doesn't conjure images of the sun coming out, it feels like the weight is going to double or treble and then again the day following and so on and so on and so on and mostly the only thing that keeps me going is the Grace of God.

      Hi ho.