Actor Robin Williams is seen in this 2007 file photo. He was found dead Aug. 11 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, the Marin County Sheriff's Office said. (CNS photo/ Lucas Jackson, Reuters)
Actor Robin Williams is seen in this 2007 file photo. He was found dead Aug. 11 at his home in Northern California from an apparent suicide, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office said. (CNS photo/ Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

Once, during a trip to New York City, some friends and I stopped into a restaurant on Seventh Avenue for dinner. I was happily slurping down my pho, a Vietnamese noodle dish, when I heard a familiar voice. The comedian Robin Williams — Mrs. Doubtfire himself — was sitting less than 10 feet away, telling hilarious stories to friends gathered around his dinner table.

It was really neat to see that Williams was as funny in real life as he appeared to be on the stage and screen.

What I didn’t know that night was that Williams struggled with depression, like hundreds of thousands of human beings. It was that depression that may have caused his tragic death in August.

When our society characterizes people with clinical depression, it paints pictures of moody teens wearing black. It does not consider depression as it honestly is: a real illness that can hit anyone of any socioeconomic background. It can affect a parent as well as a student, the rich and the poor. Like a cold or the flu, anyone can experience it.

Clinical depression has a lot to do with the way chemicals function in your brain. Scientists have found that chemicals that help regulate your mood are severely low in people who have depressive episodes. But society stigmatizes depression as just a case of “being sad,” and tells the depressed to “just get over it.” That leads the clinically depressed to hide their illness until it is too late, scared of what people might think, instead of reaching out for the treatment that can help return them to happiness.

But, just as if you were to get the flu, if you feel depressed, you should go to the doctor and get medicine and advice for feeling better. You would tell your friends to do the same. Why suffer a headache when there are painkillers? Why suffer a sinus infection when you can get a decongestant?

Doctors have effective medicine and methods to battle clinical depression. And yet, it is a condition that makes people feel as they cannot reach for help. There is help out there — from friends, psychologists, doctors and even kind strangers at hotlines and help lines.

If you are experiencing major depression, you might have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. You may be feeling extremely tired, and want to sleep all the time. You may feel hopelessness. You may lose interest in the activities that used to make you happy. You may be very anxious all the time and you may not sleep well.

If you, or a friend, experience these feelings, don’t stay silent. Reach out and connect with people or resources that can help. Don’t think of depression as something shameful. Treating it is the same as making chicken soup for a cold, or running to the pharmacist for a prescription. You will help someone feel better about themselves — and, in some cases, you may actually save a life.

Sometimes, all that stands between someone who is depressed and the darkness of oblivion is a friend who cares enough to take their hand.

Robin Williams was a bright light for everyone. He was an incredible performer and a comedian of the highest caliber. He will be missed by his family, by the artistic world and by the audience to whom he brought mirth and joy.

If you think you might be depressed, or if you know someone who may be depressed, please get help. This world cannot stand to lose your bright light, too.

— By Karen Osborne, Catholic News Service.