Comedy doesn't kill people. Depression does

Robin Williams isn’t the first comedian to kill himself, nor is he the first comedian to suffer from depression and alcoholism, nor will he be the last.  From Tommy Cooper to John Goodman, alcoholism and depression are often linked to what comedians think about themselves.

Behind Williams' killer lines was a mind that created as much a living hell as it did laughter for his audience. The mind that told him: 'I am not good enough'.

Depression is a medical condition of helplessness to the power of the thoughts in our heads, thoughts that our minds have associated unconsciously. It is our minds that tell us that we are not good enough. Our mind's association with what is good enough is an often unrealistic, imagined ideal that we still believe in because of what we were told as children and adults, and what we unconsciously associated with meaning or lack of it.

It is our minds of associated thoughts that tell us that we should 'make something of ourselves', that being a comedian, an entertainer is not a 'real job', that we are not good enough as a man, a son, a husband, a father, a woman, a daughter, a mother, a human being. 

One of the healthy alternatives to believing our mind's lies is to notice with our senses, to accept our vulnerabilities and to share all our weaknesses and imperfections honestly with the people in our lives. If you haven't yet heard of Brené Brown then look her up. She is the world's leading expert on shame. Shame is a key ingredient in depression, and Brown says that shame itself needs three things to grow: Silence, secrecy and judgment. It's my belief that these three ingredients were key to making the jail of Williams' mind into the ultimately intolerable hell he had to escape.

Depression can be cured. There is another escape from jail of the mind besides suicide. The painful irony is that when you are depressed it does feel like there is nothing other than depression forever, but the reality is that with the right help, and with healthy, honest connections in our relationships with other people, we can sometimes be free from depression in a very short period of time. We all need help along the way to get to a state of noticing with our senses rather than believing that the world we think exists in our head is real. We all need help in reality testing what our mind tells us. Our imagination, when we are not using it as a tool, is using us as a tool. The mind is full of lies and the biggest lie of all is that we are not good enough as we are.  Our minds have the power to disconnect us from existence, to prevent us from feeling alive.

 But when we wholeheartedly open up to other people by noticing and sharing our mind’s chatter, and using the conversation with others to challenge and reality test our thoughts out loud, we strengthen our connections to others, and to our existence. If depression is disconnecting from existence, happiness is connecting well with existence. The challenge for comedians, and for us, is stripping off our mind’s lies enough, to make ourselves vulnerable enough, to connect. 

Will Jelbert

​Author of The Happiness Animal – watch the book trailer 

Read Chapters 1-4 of The Happiness Animal on Scribd now


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