Robin Williams provides an Opportunity to Reflect

20% of Canadians will experience mental health illness in their lifetimes

Robin Williams Head Shot
Robin Williams provides an Opportunity to Reflect
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Eryl McCaffrey

Eryl McCaffrey

Eryl McCaffrey is a yoga teacher from Oakville, Ontario and a passionate health and wellness writer. When she’s not reminding students of how powerful they are on their mats, she’s writing about ways to find happiness, peace and freedom in this life. Eryl also loves hiking, singing and jumping out of her comfort zone whenever she gets the chance! Check out her blog.

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Every now and then we get a painful reminder of mental illness and its ability to sometimes consume, distort and dissolve incredible human beings. This week we learned of the shocking death of Robin Williams. The wildly talented comedian and actor died of an apparent suicide at the age of 63. He battled depression and substance abuse issues on and off over the course of his life. The man who brought so much laughter, joy and love to our households through his quirky and unforgettable characters simultaneously battled a dark demon—and he’s not alone Roughly 8% of Canadians deal with major depression at some point in their lives, and 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime.

I’m one of those statistics. I’ve struggled with my mental wellness since I was a little girl, but have found freedom and healing through holistic health methods and yoga. That’s not to say I haven’t been prescribed medication over the years, or even tried it, but I wanted to treat the source of the imbalance and not cover it up. I don’t want to make this article about me, and I certainly don’t want to perpetuate the idea that mental illness is bad, inescapable and fatal. It can be some of the above, but there are also paths that can lead us beyond these concepts, paths that lead to wellness and recovery.

While the passing of Robin Williams is unarguably tragic and gut-wrenching, it doesn’t have to be a reminder of the devastating effects of mental illness, although that’s what first comes to mind when we lose an individual of this caliber. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to open up the conversation about mental illness. My intention is to further push away the stigma surrounding it, until it becomes socially unacceptable to judge others for their state of mind.

Just like any physical illness, like the flu or TB, mental illness can severely limit one’s ability to function in the world as they’d like to. One the other hand, for some it can be a challenge they overcome on the journey to better health and wellness. Williams was not weak, selfish or insane for taking his life at the hands of depression. He merely needed more help as a human being, from other human beings. I am not better than anyone else for having a set of healthy tools to deal with my depression. There is no measurement of goodness or badness here. It all depends on the environment a depressed person lives in and the support system they have.

So, how do we ensure those in our lives who deal with mental illness, including ourselves, have enough help, care and support? We start by being unconditionally open to talking about it, sharing our own experiences and finding resources when we need them. We ask the tough questions when we need to. If you notice your friend has stopped coming out to social events, seems withdrawn or constantly “down” don’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask them if they are feeling okay. If they are defensive, don’t take it personally. Hurt people hurt people. Regardless of their reaction to you, you’re doing them a favour by injecting a little love and compassion into their brains and hearts.


Lastly, remove the negative connotation surrounding mental illness, in your mind, your daily conversations and your actions. We don’t shame physically sick people for being too weak to leave their hospital beds, so why would we shame mentally ill people for not participating in life in the way we see fit? The onus is on each of us to look at our role in perpetuating the mental illness stigma. The more open, supportive and understanding we are to those who battle depression, bipolar or any other type of mental ailment, the less alone and helpless they will feel and the less likely they are to want to leave this earth permanently. That being said, it is not your fault if someone you love takes their life. You could be the most open and supportive friend in the world, but if your comrade doesn’t want to see it they won’t. All I’m saying here is it’s important to never give up on yourself or others when the chips are down.

As a yoga teacher and health and wellness writer, I am passionate about spreading love and empowering individuals to live happily, healthily and peacefully. We all need love in our lives. We need self-love to keep our mind, spirit and body in balance. We need to receive love from others to fill up our cup when it gets empty. We need to show love to others to keep humanity alive and well. In the case of depression and mental illness, love is huge because it’s often lacking. Love yourself enough to get help if you’re slipping away from the world, and love human beings enough to extend a helping hand when one is struggling to get up. Most importantly, remember that we all have the power to alter the world around us by leading powerful lives ourselves. Be the light that shines on souls darkened by mental demons.

Empower those in a lost place to find their true self, their strong and purposeful self and remind them they already have everything they need in their hearts to be a beautiful contribution to this world. We all have something to offer, we all have something to give. Never forget that.


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