MOSCOW, August 11 (RIA Novosti) — The death of Robin Williams, one of the most celebrated comics and actors in modern history, has drawn the society’s attention the stigma of depression as a serious mental illness that has raised suicide rates in developed countries, the US media outlets report.
"Robin Williams was beloved by America, and yet he felt deeply alone. His apparent suicide was likely the culmination of a brutal daily battle with severe depression that he shared with millions," writes Dr. Anand Veeravagu, MD, an American neurosurgeon in his article "Robin Williams' Deadly Depression," published in the Daily Beast.
About 350 million people all over the globe are suffering from depression, according to the World Health Organization, and the rates of the mental illness are rising steadily. The US National Institute of Mental Health states that around 38,000 people commit suicide each year in the United States, and those suffering from mental disorders and depression are at a higher risk.
The symptoms of depression vary from a sad mood, loss of interest, fatigue and apathy to an inappropriate guilt and obsessive thoughts of death. Scientists argue, however, that more factors cause suicide than the depression alone.
"The severity of mood disorders, past suicide attempts and substance abuse are all thought to increase the risk," the Scientific American reports. Experts point to the fact that Robin Williams suffered from substance abuse, struggling with cocaine and alcohol addiction with multiple attempts of rehabilitation. Dr. Anand Veeravagu suggests that Williams' substance abuse could be a clinical display of a deepening mental illness.
"This coincidence of depression and substance abuse is not uncommon," the neurosurgeon notes. According to Dr. Veeravagu, depression is often accompanied by smoking and alcohol use, physical inactivity and sleep disorder. However, alcohol or tobacco addiction should not be considered as the main cause of the mental illness, experts claim.
The exact causes of depression still remain unclear. Scientists claim that the mental illness could be the result of "interacting social, biological and environmental factors." Some experts emphasize socioeconomic causes, such as an economic recession, job loss, growing poverty and inequality, not only in developing but also in flourishing developed countries. Others highlight globalization, growing threat of terrorism and stresses caused by media coverage of global affairs.
However, Jeffrey Borenstein, the president of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation in New York, claims that depression can hit individuals regardless of whether "they are rich or poor, any ethnic group, any religion."
"We often think of depression in the context of some difficult life event, and sometimes that does happen, but often depression happens without a clear-cut reason," he stated, as cited by the AFP.
Low level of neurotransmitter serotonin – the alleged trigger of depression – can be modified and normalized by the use of an "arsenal of drugs," remarks Dr. Veeravagu. Although the prescribed medicines could efficiently alleviate the symptoms, a patient may face bouts of depression again and again, specialists note.
The neurosurgeon admits that depression is still "one of the most complicated disease processes to date," and that "mental health remains a black box that science and society is only now beginning to expose."
Dr. Veeravagu says that no advanced scanner can show the depth of pain a person suffers, so if anybody you know is struggling with depression, be patient and show compassion to those who carry the heavy burden of this serious mental disease.