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The actor's death ought to encourage us to look out for people around us in need of help
22.08.14 - 12:45 -
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Robin Williams and many more
Despite being a comic genius, Williams felt lonely and depressed. :: EFE
The day the headlines appeared in all the papers about Robin Williams’s sad death, I overheard a couple say something along the lines that it was disgusting that one man’s death should take precedence over the death of over 1000 people from the Ebola outbreak. My gut instinct was to agree with them, but then I thought a little more deeply about the issue.
The death of 1000-plus Ebola victims is dreadful, as are the deaths of thousands of people in conflicts all round the world which seem so much a part of our daily lives at the moment. However, as individuals, we are totally incapable of changing or affecting any of this regardless of our humanity and feelings. The headlines, at best, make us feel hopeless and useless as individuals, and, at worst, angry and frustrated, neither feeling changing anything on the ground.
However, we are in a position to make powerful and positive changes from Robin Williams’s sad death.
Despite being a comic genius and gifted actor, a man who in films like “Good morning Vietnam” could make us laugh and cry almost at the same moment, he still felt lonely and depressed.
What about all the people around you right now, not famous or rich, just normal? For example, what about that little old lady two doors down you haven’t seen for several days; a classmate or colleague who seems to be behaving differently; the old man sitting on a bench looking out to sea for hours; the lady sitting drinking endless cups of coffee in the cafe; or the young lad who gets falling-down drunk every night, or just drinking alone?
If you are worried about anyone - a friend, colleague or family member - they may really appreciate you asking how they are. Talking about a problem is never easy. If it’s really bad, what can you say?
You don’t have to be able to solve their problem, or even to completely understand it, but listening to what they have to say will at least let them know you care.
Sometimes people often want to talk, but we just don’t realise. Fortunately, people do put out signals. Sometimes they are very tentative signals, but the signs are often there if we know what to look for. Here are some ways that people signal that they may need help:
* Being irritable or nervous.
* A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating less than normal.
* Drinking, smoking or using drugs more than usual.
* Being untypically clumsy or accident-prone.
* Becoming withdrawn or losing touch with friends and family.
* Losing interest in their appearance. For example dressing badly, no longer wearing make-up or not washing regularly.
* Making leading statements, such as “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through” or “It’s like the whole world is against me.” People sometimes say these things in the hope you will ask them what they mean, so that they can talk about it.
* Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, for example “Oh, no one loves me,” or “I’m a waste of space.”
You probably don’t know how to help, but often just listening is all that is needed. Beyond that you could guide them towards more professional help, such as a priest, doctor, nurse, counsellor, therapist, mentor, confidant, close friends, and so many other ways.
Less intrusively, there are services such as Samaritans in Spain who offer a free totally confidential listening service by phone on 902 88 35 35m or by email on
Their motto is “You talk, we listen” so your friend would just need to do that, just talk.
Nothing can change the horror of so many horrendous deaths around the world, and nothing can change the sad loss of such a gifted actor. But perhaps the most fitting monument to him would be to celebrate his life, his comic genius and be thankful for the joy he has given us in the past, and to allow his sad death to prompt us to look more deeply around us and to help others.