Robin Williams Behind the Mask – A Psychotherapist’s View on a Tragic Loss

rwilliamsRobin Williams was truly a cast of characters wrapped in one. He made us all laugh (Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire), cry (Good Will Hunting), and transformed the most mundane aspects of life into profound and present moments. Tragically, there was a darker character that he likely worked very hard to keep in the background. Although the truth of Robin’s suffering will forever remain in his psychotherapist’s “vault”, it appears from this writer’s perspective that he suffered deeply from an ailment known as Bipolar Disorder (BPD), more commonly known as Manic Depression.

Manic depression

Manic Depression presents itself in two varying and distinct forms. One is where great elation (a high) and excessive energy (I can do anything) together continue for extended periods. Robin was likely in these periods when he was at his creative best, demonstrated by his remarkable ability for extemporaneous, stand up humor and award winning moments in his many films. Regrettably, as the saying goes, “what goes up, must come down…”. What follows from the trajectory of great elation is a deep trough of loneliness and sadness where life seems not worth living, literally.  Sometimes people feel a deadness inside or a kind of numbness.  Although depression does not present itself in consistent ways amongst all people, usually there is a list of symptoms that accompany those that are depressed. These symptoms of depression can include loss of appetite, loss of interest in what originally gave pleasure, fatigue, and physical pain.

The reaction to manic depression/bipolar disorder can be very destructive

Unfortunately, people who suffer with variations of bipolarity try many destructive efforts to combat the inner darkness and sometimes it can lead to the tragic and irreversible act of suicide.

We can learn from Robin Williams

While we may never know the details about about Robin’s life and the circumstances leading up to his death, there are subtle aspects of the cycle of elation/depression for most people.  Perhaps we all identify with Robin Williams’ mask on some level?  All of us have unique feelings and experiences.  There is no need for alarm if you experience on some level the cycle of great energy and depths of sadness. Know that help is available. The best path to better health is with the insight and support provided by a qualified psychotherapist.



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