Honor Robin Williams by…..

August 12, 2014


… calling someone you know who is depressed and inviting them to lunch.

This morning, very early, I got a call from a patient, in tears, saying she was “jealous of Robin Williams.” I asked why. “Because he’s getting so much attention. And I want some attention.” I said to her “but he’s not around to get it. You can only get attention if you stick around!”

After we got off the phone (she felt safe) I realized she was was really onto something here. The big killer in depression is lack of attention — lack of love — or, at least, the lack of feeling loved. And this isn’t some global idea, some philosophical position. This is a feeling that people have minute-by-minute, day-by-day. And it’s something that gets solved that way too: minute by minute, day by day. It’s the kind of thing that gets solved — this may sound funny — by lunch.

The outpouring of love for Robin Williams is amazing; people want to do something to make him not have suffered, not have killed himself, or at least not have died in vain. So here’s what you can do: put down the internet for a second, think of someone in your life who is depressed, call/text/email them, and WITHOUT MENTIONING THEIR DEPRESSION or saying you’re doing it out of pity, invite them out for lunch.

Now listen. If you want to do this — if this makes intuitive sense — go slow for a second. Don’t just call “your depressed friend.” Everyone has a depressed friend – the friend who makes sure that everyone they know knows they are depressed. And I am not saying these people aren’t depressed. Something is definitely wrong that they are telling everyone this all the time. But before you know it this lucky soul will get all the lunches. So don’t forget that depressed people only rarely go around telling everyone they’re depressed. More likely they are keeping to themselves, and keeping their thoughts to themselves.  The person who most needs this call may not spring easily to mind. The depressed person in your life may be a sibling or parent or child or friend who “everyone knows” is depressed. But what’s even more likely is that you are only barely registering who the depressed people in your life are.

So call someone who “hasn’t been around lately.” Call someone who kind of strangely dropped out of touch. Call someone who you used to talk to in class, or see around at work, who used to be more friendly, and used to smile more, and used to throw parties, and used to invite you to things, who has “gone quiet.”

Go with your gut. Sense a disturbance in the force. Use your spidey-sense. If someone kind of minor, or moderate, in your life has gone missing — someone you barely noticed slip away — pick up the phone and text/email/call.

Don’t tell them you’re throwing a pity party. Don’t say “when I read the news I thought of you…”  Take a second to get your intentionality straight. How would you like to be asked out to lunch? Probably by someone actually wanting to see you for you — not to ease their own guilt. So think of something cool about this person… something you always liked…. something that always got you curious… something you wouldn’t mind hearing more about. They don’t have to be your favorite person in the world. They don’t have to be gorgeous or brilliant or fascinating. You can go to lunch with someone who just has that one interesting thing about them.

Focus your mind on that one interesting thing — that thing that is worth living for — that thing that, if you honestly are interested in them, will make them see that you value them, and so will make them value themselves — and then call.  Not out of pity. Out of interest.

And then say “hey, I was thinking about that time that you _______…” or “I was remembering you once told me that you ______…” or “I was trying to figure out _______ and realized you might know…..” or “this funny thing happened to me and I realized you would appreciate it more than anyone……” and then close with “and I was hoping we could have lunch.”

That’s the word: hoping. You were hoping you could see them. Get yourself into a place where it’s really true. Depressed people have world-class bullshit meters. It doesn’t have to be your fondest hope. This doesn’t have to be your own personal American Idol. It could be a very mild hope – like hoping the pizza your friend ordered has pepperoni on it. A small hope – but a hope nonetheless. And actually hoping that you can actually see them say the word “hope.”

Because hearing that you are hoping to see them will give them hope. A small hope! Not a hope that lunch will save their life. Just a hope that maybe lunch will be fun, and that seeing you will be fun.

Go ahead. Don’t tweet that tweet about Robin Williams. Don’t write that Facebook post about how he changed your life as Mork. Pick up the phone.

Worst that happens: you get lunch. And best: you’ll never know, but you just might save their life.



About Peter Freed, M.D.

I am a psychiatrist (psychopharmacology and psychotherapy) specializing in the so-called "personality disorders," particularly narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. I was a Fellow and then an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia from 2004- 2011. I am currently in private practice in NYC.

View all posts by Peter Freed, M.D.

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One Comment on “Honor Robin Williams by…..”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I like this post. I am one of those depressed people. Thanks for your empathy.


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