How should express to someone else that we think they may have a mental health problem? And should we? There are some things that we don’t raise, even if we are clinically qualified to do so you don’t tell your friend that you think that they’re autistic. That somebody needs to find out as a result of deciding to go on a journey themselves. However, if you are, for example, an employer or a colleague of someone or even a relative of someone who is experiencing a mental health issue and you are able to help, then maybe it is something that you need to discuss with them. If it is affecting the quality of the relationship you have with them, affecting the quality of their work or life then there are definitely going to be times when it is appropriate to delicately sit down and have the conversation in which you eloquently put forward the phrase ‘I think you have a problem’.
The reason why I wanted to share this particular topic with you today and to give you some advice and guidance around it is because I was watching a youtube documentary of the story of how Robin Williams’s life tragically ended. He died by suicide and it was widely reported at the time that there may have been some mental health factors which contributed to his decision to take his own life. When you start diving into that story what you uncover is that there was a lot more to it than perhaps the media portrayed and some of you, like me, may have been under the impression that he had made that decision to end his life because he had recently received a diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease. In fact, there was an awful lot more going on and whilst I don’t know how much of it is true, lots of it has come from sources such as autobiographical books and series that have since like subsequently been produced about him.
The reason why it struck me so hard and I really wanted to share it with you, in this article, is because during that entire first episode I was screaming at the screen! In fact, there came a point where I was so frustrated I had to pause it and walk away for a little while because it was really evident that there was stuff going on that people close to him tried to have flagged up. By the end of the first episode of the documentary, I knew there was a neurological issue.
During the documentary, discussions took place about the changes in his personality, behaviour and his general mindset. When you have those three areas disrupted simultaneously we have to start thinking that there may be a mental health challenge happening with this person.
Those three things are key and if you are seeing signs in someone close to you that those three areas are becoming disrupted then mental health should be one of the things that you consider.
Robin Williams did have some history of mental health challenges and sobriety. However, based on what was actually reported in the documentary, it was clear that actually there was something going on more towards the mental illness side rather than a mental health issue.
I don’t know lots about Parkinson’s disease although I have a friend whose parent has it. Therefore, I have seen it somewhat first hand and the symptoms didn’t seem to align well with Robin Williams. Michael J. Fox from the Back to the Future movies had Parkinson’s as did Muhammad Ali. We can see from those celebrities that although it was quite a debilitating disease (particularly if they were physically fit and healthy). They retained their personalities at their core and had assistance from medications. In the case of Michael J. Fox, he’s still able to continue to act and do the things that he loves and enjoys time with his family. However, in the case of Robin Williams he was no longer able to connect with people in the same way. As more was revealed about the effects that Robin Willams was suffering from, it became clear to me that he was experiencing a rare form of dementia.
If you know in yourself something’s not right with a person you care for and you’ve checked in with others to see what they think of their behaviour, attitude and mindset and others agree with you, then there’s a chance that you have identified something that needs attention.
I think we have a responsibility and a duty to make sure that if someone hasn’t got the capacity to seek out help for themselves, they can rely on others to step in. Sitting down with someone and saying ‘I think there is a problem here’ is really tough no matter how or when or where you do it.
By Gemma Bailey