People think, if only I had success in life, I’d be the happiest person on earth. Yet, as Robin Williams’ suicide so clearly demonstrates, you can have fame, fortune, a loving family and still be depressed. Though I have no knowledge of Robin Williams’ inner psyche, I do know that those with wealth and status are not immune to depression. Indeed, they may even be more prone to it.
Why should this be so?
The old adage that money doesn’t buy you happiness is true – unless you are desperately poor. Then reaching a basic standard of living does lead to happiness, at least for awhile. However, having money does not protect you from becoming depressed.
But how can people who have “everything” be depressed? What is there to be depressed about?
Like many things in life, it’s complicated.
- You can have a joyous spirit when you’re with others, yet be plagued with feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy when you’re alone.
- You can be flexible with many notions, yet remain rigid about not accepting your deficiencies and defects.
- You can be creative in finding solutions to other people’s problems, yet be blind to alternative ways of thinking about your own problems.
- You can be amusing and entertaining at social gatherings, yet not be able to talk yourself out of your depressive feelings.
- You can appreciate the adoration you receive, yet be fearful that you will let others down.
- You can enjoy everything you have, yet demand more from yourself, because of all you have.
When you live in a rarified atmosphere, it’s often hard to admit, or even recognize that you’re depressed. How can you complain of feeling down or worthless or guilty when you are an icon of joy and success to many others? Hence, you mask your depression with alcohol, drugs and/or fast living. And wave off others’ concerns (or even your own concerns) about how you are living life.
When you are a highly functional person, it’s difficult to humble yourself to seek help, especially when the waves of depression ultimately pass. It’s not easy to admit that you have serious thoughts about killing yourself, when so many others look up to you.
It’s not that depression is an illness that’s reserved for the rich and famous. It’s that depression is an equal opportunity illness that expresses itself in different forms (you may not be able to get out of bed or you may not be able to stop hustling to get into bed) and in all types of people (from those who have everything to those who have nothing).
So, if you are depressed, seek treatment. And if you suspect that a friend or family member might be depressed, open up a respectful dialogue. Listen to what s/he says. If it seems appropriate, suggest treatment. That’s a far superior alternative than learning about your friend’s depression by receiving a dreadful, horrifying, terrifying call that will haunt you for the rest of your days.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior.