In the wake of the shocking and sad news about actor Robin Williams, the discussion has turned to the hope that bringing awareness to the issues surrounding depression could prevent such happenings. As someone who very much was disappointed to learn that the recent show-in which Mr Williams starred- The Crazy Ones* -had not been picked up for a second season, it seems fitting to note that the character Robin Williams played in this TV comedy was a recovering addict- from the potentially lethal combination of drugs and alcohol. Somehow the connection between addiction and alcohol and drug abuse (prescription or otherwise) and depression must be made. And we must move beyond chicken and egg theories ( which came first ) to what may exacerbate rather than relieve an individual.
I currently live in Toronto, a city from where the exploits of the current mayor ( drugs, alcohol) have gone global, be they featured on a Jimmey Kimmel show or simply bandied about on various forms of social media. Of great concern as an educator is whether enough young people see the diseases for what they are; addiction should not be glorified in any shape or form. Why anyone turns to alcohol or drugs is a moot point- the options to obtain both merely a matter of cash. And many young people have access to cash, and see images of exciting lifestyles as obtainable with a little extra help from the right pill, or boozy concoction. This is one of the reasons I wished that more people would have noticed Robin Williams’ recent show- the show never made light of the addictions, instead it continuously brought home the message that while being an addict the character had manged to accomplish a number of things- growing the ad agency for example, the focus per episode was on the recovered/recovering aspects of the person, attempting stronger relationships with his staff, his family, and his new clients. It is therefore even more sad that the show lacked the strong following it deserved; do we not appreciate the example of strength the Robin Williams character displayed?
I for one intend to dispel some myths when teaching this year-and highlight instead that: not all writers are drunks (legend of the Hemingway character as example) , not all comics are depressive (Robin Williams will now be seen as suggestive), not all musicians burn out young (Michael Jackson) not all successful famous people die untimely deaths (Marilyn Monroe)…
And I will ask students to find their own examples of individuals who surpass the odds- not merely the typical SAT type board exam question dealing with adversity, but moving beyond this to the question of where myths and or urban legends come from and what positive and negative effects such urban myths/legends may hold. I doubt we will solve the problems in these classes, but at the very least we will be questioning culture and attitude towards both public displays of excess and private suffering. It is not about rearing a tea totaling generation, it is about wanting the future generation to recognize that no one starts out as an addict- and to encourage students to realize that more and more society is trying to focus on issues that deal with mental as well as physical health- not from the quick fix of a pill or a drink- but from the long term stabilizing aspects of community, participation and education. Together; people getting stronger.
*For more about the show and its characters see the tribute offered by Sarah Michelle Geller who played his daughter in The Crazy Ones