Robin Williams and Depression

The news of Robin Williams’ passing is incredibly sad. He’s always been one of my favorite comedians.

It may not be surprising to anyone who knows me but I love stand up comedy.

Number one: it’s funny. I love the way that comedians look at life. They see the absurdity and irony of things and they find humor in life that many of us never could. Number two: it’s taught me so much about communication. I’ve often thought that doing stand-up comedy at an open mic night would be a great way to improve my communication skills. The way that comedians are able to get their ideas across to the audience is simply amazing. And I’m not sure there was anyone who was better at it than Robin Williams. He packed more jokes into a smaller space than just about anyone else.

With all of that said it’s understandable why his passing is really difficult for many of us. Robin Williams was a man that many of us loved. He brought us joy. He made us laugh. He made us think.

And yet at his core it appears that he did not have joy. It’s been widely reported that Robin Williams was depressed. As a depressive person myself I can understand where he’s coming from. Even though he was receiving adulation from millions of people in the world, he apparently had a hard time believing this for himself.

Depression and the Church

The depression that Robin Williams may have suffered from is not necessarily something that can be willed or prayed away. For some of us depression or being depressive is just a matter of our brains’ chemistries. It’s something that we have to live with and learn how to manage our whole lives.

Unfortunately in the church depression is still a major stigma. People often think that those who suffer with depression just haven’t realized or accepted the joy of the Lord. They just haven’t prayed the right way. Maybe there’s some sin that they just can’t get over. Etc., etc., ad nauseam. Those of us who suffer from depression or who tend to be depressive often hear all this nonsense. In fact we hear it so much that we are hesitant to reveal that we’re depressive or are in the midst of suffering from depression.

So in light of Robin Williams’ untimely death I think it would be wise for us to think again about how we as the church approach mental illness, especially depression. We can’t turn a blind eye anymore. And we can’t just relegate it to the category of those bad Christians who simply don’t pray enough. Depression and mental illness are realities that we need to take seriously!

One of the ways that we can begin taking them seriously is by removing the stigma from depression and other mental illnesses. We need to be people who are open and accepting of all people and all of their baggage. Our churches need to be safe havens for people who suffer all kinds of ailments, whatever they may be. If we did this, then I think we would be more known for our kindness and compassion than for our judgmental attitudes!

Another thing that we need to take away from from this situation is the following: Take helpful action!  If any of us are having suicidal thoughts or if any of us know those who may be having suicidal thoughts, we need to seek help. If we are depressed or know someone who is, it may be time to think about visiting a professional. There’s nothing wrong with seeking counseling or medication if necessary. And as the church we need to do a better job of not judging people with mental illness.

Friends we need to remember the Scripture where Jesus said that he came for the sick and not for the well (Matthew 9.12, Mark 2.17, Luke 5.31). There are many different kinds of sicknesses, one of which is mental illness. And Jesus came for folks who suffer the way that Robin Williams suffered.

Let us do a better job of caring for those in need.


How do you think the church should approach depression?  Let me know in the comments below.