Note: This is a story that was written for and published on Latina.com in August 2014. However, the site has since shut down and my story has disappeared… But the internet gods allowed me to find it in its entirety, so I am re-posting it here since a) I feel very strongly about this topic & b) this piece was really important to me because I believe we need to talk MORE about mental health and end the stigma — especially in light of the Anthony Bourdain news this morning that has me crying all over again. So, I wanted to continue to share it. Enjoy!
I remember feeling shocked over the news that Heath Ledger passed away. I remember feeling sad over Michael Jackson. I remember where I was when I heard about Whitney Houston passing, as a friend broke the news to me. Each time a celebrity has passed since I started remembering, and even moreso since I started to work in this media world (always with the question in mind of “how are we going to cover?”), I remember always being shocked, always being sad.
It’s tragic. It’s always tragic when someone you feel you know dies — whether you really knew them or saw them on screen or heard their songs on an album. We remember that “Thriller” was the first scary thing we saw, or that the hunk in 10 Things I Hate About You made us love the sensitive bad boy. We remember all of that and more, and we are touched by the very reality that someone that we didn’t even know had impacted our lives is now gone from them. We didn’t know them in real life — how they spoke to their friends, how they loved their family — but we knew them in our hearts.
That’s where Robin Williams will now forever live. I am absolutely, positively, utterly shocked at the news that he is gone from this world.
It’s a special thing when someone makes an impact on your whole family, and he has on mine. Mrs. Doubtfire was one of the first films my family loved after moving to the U.S. in 1994. My parents, who barely spoke English at the time, laughed at the antics of this great comic dressed as an elderly nanny. How many times did we watch that movie together? I don’t think I could count. I’m sure we still have the VHS tape somewhere.
Remembering someone that touched your life is hard. I don’t think I’ve ever cried over a celebrity’s death, no matter how much I admired them, but I cried over Robin Williams’ passing. I’m tearing up just writing this.
What makes me even sadder is news that he died of an apparent suicide. Celebrities all across the U.S., and the world I’m sure, are speaking out about their sadness, what a sweet man he was, what a genuine soul. But what we really need to talk about in this country is mental health. Where is the conversation about depression and the effects it has on the individuals and families dealing with the disease?
July is minority mental health awareness month. I know this is a topic that touches many Latino families, often because we don’t know how to talk about it. I admit I don’t even know how to talk about it. When I struggled with depression myself as a teen, as many teens do, I didn’t let my parents know. I didn’t tell my friends, and I didn’t seek help from a counselor. I tried to take my own life once, and thankfully it didn’t work. After that things somehow got better, but I am still ashamed by all of it. But what I know now is that it wasn’t my fault. I needed help, and I didn’t reach out. I didn’t know how to.
The only ray of light we can have at the end of this immense tragedy is that we start talking about it. We open up the conversation about the disease called depression, and we empower our community to educate themselves, talk about it and seek treatment when needed. Before it’s too late, before we have lost someone we all hold so dear.
Rest in peace, funny man. I can only hope you’re better now.
If you are having harmful thoughts, PLEASE reach out. There are many resources out there. You can email me, talk to a loved one, reach out to a stranger… just do NOT stay silent. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.