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Robin Williams and depression: We all wear a mask

Suicide is a major cause of death, highest among those 46-64

Terrie M. Williams | 8/13/2014, 10:15 a.m.
Smart, successful, funny and handsome. Robin Williams seemed to have it all. And yet, today he is dead. Apparently, by ...
Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams apparently took his own life at his Northern California home Monday, law enforcement officials said. Williams was 63. (Photo/Warner Bros. Feature)

— I learned to dance the dance, to smile for my friends, for my parents, for the audience, for the camera. I smiled, all while inside a hurricane was sweeping me into an ocean of darkness.

You are ashamed. I was ashamed. We are all somehow very ashamed to admit to others our feelings of doom.

There is no one size fits all reason for depression's presence. For some it is childhood demons. For others, a chemical imbalance. It can be brought on by stressful situations or hang around forever in the background like a stubborn gray cloud.

Just as there is no single explanation for this emotional predator, there can be no one-size-fits-all solution. It starts with sharing and admitting the pain. Nothing can be fixed until we admit that it is broken, until we acknowledge that there is a problem. From that point forward, we must work toward our healing solutions, because we are fighting for our life.

My battle with depression has diminished greatly, although I'm not sure that it will completely disappear. What I do know is that having it gone completely is a personal goal that I've set and will continue to take whatever steps are necessary to accomplish it.

Writing my book "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting" was part of the journey. I wanted to help other people better understand what they were going through. Now I've co-founded with Madeline McCray the New Legacy Leaders Project to carry the mission forward. The mantra of the initiative, "Our Vision Our Journey, Beyond Depression, Obesity and Poverty to Wellness and Prosperity."

How can we stop our best and brightest, our loved ones, from killing themselves when alone in that darkness? How can we make a difference?

First, we have to take off the mask. We must begin to share our pain. By talking about it, everyone will realize that they are not alone. And they do not have to go through this journey alone.

Next, we must get involved and demand that our elected representatives support legislation that make resources available for everyone to get the support and help they need.

Lastly, we've got to reach out to each other. When you see someone struggling, don't just ignore them, write them off or assume they'll just "snap out of it." Call them, visit them, keep an eye on them. Have a cup of coffee and just listen. We all have a shared responsibility in the health and well-being of our society, one friend at a time.

Robin Williams' death is a stark reminder to all of how much work there is to do. He was brilliant, and he brought joy to so many others. Yet it seems that inner peace escaped him. But he is at peace now. Still, those he left behind -- his family and friends -- are left to try to make sense of it.

It might not ever make sense.

You never really know what goes on inside someone's head. We all wear a mask.

Terrie M. Williams is a celebrity publicist who has represented stars from Eddie Murphy to Chris Rock. She is also a mental health advocate and author of "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting." Dr. Dawn Porter is founder of FamilyRenewed.com, child adolescent and adult psychiatrist. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Dr. Dawn Porter contributed to this article. For more information on battling depression go to CNN.com/Impact or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.