One of the roles that Robin Williams played that stayed with me for years was his portrayal as John Keating in “Dead Poet’s Society.” Nothing else quite so touched me as Keating’s lessons to his students about how short and precious life was, and how we should make the most of it. The teaching of carpe diem—seize the day is one that was especially profound as at the end of the movie one of Keating’s students takes his life. It was a shock to all of the high schoolers who all believed that they had years and a long life ahead of them. Now, in the wake of Robin Williams’ death, it is even more appropriate now to reflect back on this lesson that Williams’ character left behind: to live and act like each day is your last.

I was shocked and heartbroken when I learned of Williams’ death, as I had grown to love him from all the roles he played. He brought laughter to his audience in roles such as Theodore Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum,” as the voice of the Genie in Aladdin and as the film’s title character in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” At the same time, he also taught important life lessons in movies such as “Good Will Hunting” and “Dead Poet’s Society.” He was a man who managed to touch the lives of thousands with a cheerful grin, a winning smile or a funny comment. He brought laughter to people and brightened their days.

However, the smile was not always on his face. Williams’ suffered from depression, something one would not immediately assume because of his usual comedic personality. On Aug. 11, 2014, Williams committed suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom.

Williams’ suicide has risen concern about both the importance of mental health and the stigmas attached to mental illness. Why do some people treat mental illnesses, such as depression, as equivalent to the common cold? Mental illnesses are not just a passing phase in a stage of growing up, nor is it something that will go away within a few weeks. Depression is a very real and growing problem; it affects not only the person suffering, but those who surround them.

Many people think that depression is feeling down in the dumps or being extremely sad for a few days. This is false: Depression is a constant overwhelming weight of sadness. Additionally, depression affects your weight, sleep patterns, what activities you enjoy and feelings of self-worth. These thoughts often lead people to think about death and suicide.

Over 40,000 Americans commit suicide each year; 15 percent of those are due to depression. That’s over 6,000 people taking their lives due to a mental disease that is brushed off by many as insignificant or easily fixable. And, while there is treatment for depression, it is not as easy as so many would believe.

As a mood disorder, it takes time and proper medication to alleviate the effects of depression. Treating depression can sometimes be a long and drawn out process—not a quick and easy fix that most people expect.

If we take anything from this loss of an amazing actor, it should be to take mental illnesses more seriously. Don’t make light of these situations or berate people who suffer from them. These are real problems that cause pain and can even lead to death.

Just because someone has a smile on their face doesn’t mean that everything is all right. Treat everyone with kindness and if anyone you know suffers from depression, make sure that they know how much you value them.  Don’t make rude comments, degrade someone or attack them over social media. The incessant exposure by the media makes it easy—especially for teenagers—to be deeply affected by the criticism and hate around them, which causes feelings of self-hatred, worthlessness and can lead to depression.

As we seize today and make a difference in the world we live in, the importance of helping those who suffering from mental illnesses should take a higher priority than whether or not pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks are back. In a time where major issues seem trivialized and people only spread awareness on social media, we as a society forget the reality in which we live: People everyday are suffering from mental illnesses and the number of likes on a facebook page or instagram doesn’t amount to much if it is not coupled with an active movement to make a change.

It is up to us to make society realize the dangers and real problems that mental problems cause. If we continue to treat depression as a stage of simply “feeling blue” then we only allow those affected to fall deeper into worthlessness. Don’t let another person become a suicide statistic because their disease isn’t taken seriously.

“Your move, Chief.”

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