By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Robin Williams’ suicide is prompting a larger discussion about depression. It’s a sad fact of life that a celebrity’s passing can sometimes bring badly-needed attention to an under-appreciated health issue. And one of the nation’s leading advocates for more focus on mental illness said that this is one of those moments.

Patrick Kennedy knows what Robin Williams was going through. The former congressman has long battled mental illness and substance abuse issues.

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“Robin Williams was only one of 100 people that committed suicide yesterday,” Kennedy said in an interview with Jon Keller. “And today there will be another hundred people who will commit suicide.”

A crusader for better treatment policies since leaving office three years ago, Kennedy sees the Williams tragedy as a terrible but important teachable moment.

“The problem we’re facing is the overwhelming shame and stigma that still persists when it comes to those suffering from mental illness,” Kennedy said. “It can affect everybody from every walk of life, even somebody as affluent and as funny and intelligent as Robin Williams.”

In fact, federal statistics show eight percent of Americans over age 12 – close to 25 million of us – grapple with depression, with women more prone to it than men, and those between 40 and 59 suffering at the highest rates.

“Robin Williams didn’t commit suicide, depression killed Robin Williams,” Kennedy said. “The country’s gonna talk about this because Robin Williams was so beloved people knew he was suffering, but they can’t imagine it would come to this.”

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“A lot of people suffer a lot longer than they need to because no one is asking them do you need help? and there is help available.”

Kennedy wants insurers and the government to pay for mental health treatment the same way they fund other forms of health care. And while that may be expensive, Kennedy argues it can help deal with a myriad of physical health problems, because “you can’t separate the body from the mind.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, there is help available:


Families for Depression Awareness

Massachusetts Association for Mental Health

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Jon Keller