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Courtesy: NY Daily News

Robin Williams’ shocking suicide has put the spotlight back on America’s most misunderstood illness: depression.

The sudden death of the Oscar-winning star and comic genius — whose depression was “severe,” in the words of his publicist — reminds us that sadness can lurk behind the widest smile.
And the word is spreading.

“A tragic reminder that the conversation about mental health CANNOT stop,” tweeted “Girls” star Lena Dunham, who’s been candid about her own struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. “Money, fame, artistic freedom — none of it is a barrier.”

Indeed, Hollywood is riddled with actors, comics and musicians who have battled mental illness.
Catherine Zeta-Jones has been outspoken about her fight against bipolar disorder.

“Mad Men” star Jon Hamm has opened up about his depression after his father’s death.
Owen Wilson attempted suicide in 2007. His lawyer confirmed that the “Wedding Crashers” actor had been depressed.

Billy Joel, who has battled alcoholism, has described falling into a “deep mental fog” after 9/11.
Comedians, including Richard Pryor, Richard Jeni and Artie Lange, all attempted suicide — with Jeni succeeding.

Clearly, depression is no laughing matter — it will afflict one in six people, yet the public has a hard time recognizing “the blues” as a legitimate illness.

“We have to be ever mindful that depression is a real disease, it is common, it is serious, but it is treatable, and we have to keep talking about it,” said Dr. Harry Croft, author of “Treating Your Depression: Finding Light at the End of the Tunnel.

“It’s not just weakness of will,” Croft added. “It’s a brain disorder, and it can affect anybody — the rich, the famous and the rest of us.

Williams, who was believed to have bipolar disorder, admitted to drug and alcohol addiction — a symptom of the enormous pressure he felt to be funny.

“I had 20 years sober before I relapsed,” the “Dead Poets Society” star said in a 2010 interview with comedian Marc Maron. “It’s trying to fill the hole. It’s fear … You’re kind of going, ‘What am I doing in my career? …Where do you go next?’

Mental-health references are all over pop culture today, from the bipolar heroines played by Claire Danes on “Homeland” and Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook,” to the leads in “Monk” and “The Big Bang Theory” grappling with OCD or Asperger’s syndrome — but the stigma that victims are a danger to others, or the disorders are personal weakness prevent many from seeking help.

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