“You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

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Note from the Editor: When I read SCN contributor Erin Lann’s Facebook post last night, I thought it was worth sharing with our audience. Thanks, Erin, for your honesty, candor and willingness to share.

A lot of people are posting about the loss of Robin Williams and treatment for mental illness, and I think that’s amazing. I, and several other members of this community, suffer from either a mental illness or personality disorder, like social anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression or OCD. It is hard, and it is relentless. I want to be 100% candid in saying this: most days are good. Sometimes, days are dark. It only takes one very dark day to put an end to any possible good days that may follow. 

What makes life easier is the amount of people who come forward during times like this and offer help; be it an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, or just general support for mental illness awareness. 

If you are someone who offers these things, thank you. But sadly, it is not enough. Because tomorrow we’ll forget about Robin Williams’ passing and go back to being judgmental, impatient and selfish. Please remember something: WHAT YOU DO EVERY DAY COUNTS. Suicide is quick. The months that lead up to it are long, drudging and full of missed opportunities to change someone’s sense of self-worth. 

The environment we, as a society, create affects those with mental illness constantly. No therapist can keep up with a world that’s content to cast someone off. Next time you want to show impatience or cynicism towards someone, please remember—they may have a mental illness. When you serve yourself over someone else’s needs, remember: they may have a metal illness. 

I’m not asking you to skip through a field with them while singing “We Are the World.” I’m asking you to make a serious life adjustment to let go of some anger and to be as humane as you can, all the time. That is how you, personally, can help. There is no “normal person” under the illness. It is a grotesque and beautiful part of a complex and ever-evolving personality that is so much bigger than a textbook diagnosis. Don’t ask people what they are suffering from; ask them how they are suffering. Everyone experiences mental illness differently, finds themselves in need differently. If a person commits suicide, it is not their fault for failing to feel self-worth, seek help or call a hotline. It is our fault—for failing to create a world that they can survive in. We failed to show love, compassion and to be inclusive. I cannot express enough the importance of being inclusive. 

There are parts of a mental illness that are beyond the reach of any human to help, but there are parts of that person that can be reassured and convinced to fight. People need to know that you see them. You can’t cure a mental illness, but you can convince someone to fight for his life. Treat people with enough respect and dignity, and they will fight. We cannot cast off another person. One in four is affected by mental illness–probably more in the comedy community. Think about that: you know these people. You can go hug one of them right now–so do that, please. 

If Robin Williams teaches us anything, let it be this: “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.” Every person deserves a chance. Fight with them. That’s how you, personally, can help. 

Of course, direct people towards professional help as needed. You are not solely responsible for anyone. And please keep all the Robin Williams memories coming; they’re making me cry in that really satisfying kind of way.

Erin Lann is an avid Robin Williams fan. She encourages you to visit: