Last week saw the headlines dominated by varying degrees of bluntness and shock-factor taglines regarding the death of Robin Williams. While many merely stated the facts, the harsh reality of his suicide was viciously publicised by the likes of Alan Brazil’s blunt remarks live on BBC radio, and by various tabloid headlines drawing attention to the wrong details – the how, and not the why. The morning after Williams’ death emerged, social media newsfeeds everywhere were overwhelmingly littered with tributes, messages and statements referring to his most celebrated roles, declarations of sadness, and references to lines such as ‘Oh Captain, my Captain’(Dead Poets’ Society), being used by people I never would have tabbed as die-hard film fans or critics. This global reaction only cemented the general feeling of loss that was felt the world over by fans of Williams, yet also due to the nature of his death, it was felt by many more – from those who merely appreciated his films and were able to say ‘yes, he’s very good’, to those who have personal experiences with depression, suicide, and mental illness.
As heartfelt as the quotes and tributes to Robin Williams are, and as much as they are wonderful homage to his talents, none of those characters would have existed as they do without the mind behind them. To say that nobody knows what's going on inside another's head is as huge an understatement as Williams is a loss to the film world. I think the only good thing that can come out of this tragedy is that it has made more people aware of and more understanding of how destructive mental health issues can be.
The decision for the pop-up event managing company ‘Happenings’ in Dublin to screen two of Williams’ films at such short notice on the announcement of his death was exactly the kind of active reaction that these situations call for. This is ‘happening’ all the time. Once it has happened, there is nothing anyone can do about it, let alone change about it. Instead of focusing on the negative and shocking elements of his death, the screenings celebrated the actor and his talents in the only way that seemed fit. There were speeches from the mental health charities Pieta House and Headstrong before each film began, calling out for a more open-minded approach to dealing with mental health, which purely by addressing the huge crowd of people gathered together in such a situation succeeded in drawing attention to the universality of these issues, and the importance of coming together to deal with them.
The two screenings of ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ on Thursday 14th, and ‘Good Will Hunting’ on Saturday 17th, I felt were a beautiful way to celebrate just one life that affected millions of people. It was a strange feeling, sitting there and knowing that many of the people surrounding you had also grown up watching films such a ‘Jumanji’. ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’. ‘Patch Adams’, and ‘Flubber’, to name but a few. Even stranger was to consider the confusing sense of communal loss that was felt at Williams’ death – none of us had known him, yet his life, work and struggles had touched so many people and were so relatable, that it felt almost as if we had.
Although something may be in your head, some worry that you can’t quite pin down (or don’t want to), there is no way for anyone else to know about it or be able to help if you do not talk. Talking is funny sometimes, because it is really the only medium humans have of communicating what is in their heads, and often you can say things without realising you’re thinking them. Sometimes, you start to talk and things come out that you don’t even realise are in there. This is why it’s so important. If you don’t know exactly what is bothering you, or how you could possibly solve something, or how to deal with a certain event, even just explaining your situation to somebody can often make the road seem a bit clearer. Once the gate is opened and the thoughts come through, they are finallyfinally out there, and you can see them for what they really are, instead of a jumbled mush of worries and unknown anxiety that seems impossible to solve. However cheesy it may sound, talking is literally the best beginning to recovery from any sort of mental illness.
It takes a huge leap of faith to put your trust in someone and open up about things, and sometimes faith is exactly what you lack in tough times. Knowing yourself and your limits is key, and there is no quick fix. It's an ongoing thing, something that just needs to be accepted as part of life instead of boxed into a doctor's office never to be spoken about again. But it's something I feel extremely strongly about and which needs as much support as it can get from the outside, if it's to have any effect whatsoever to anyone's trouble on the inside. Robin Williams’ death is a tragedy that cannot be changed or altered – it has happened, and while tributes and sadness are a natural and fitting way to pay homage to him, the only positive thing that can come from it now is awareness, acceptance, and the encouragement to Just Talk.