Robin Williams’ problems were diseases that can hit anyone

Robin Williams battled addiction and depression, and psychiatrist Kevin Hill says it\'s important to realize that those problems aren\'t character flaws but diseases. (AP Photo)
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Rick Massimo | November 15, 2014 4:11 pm

WASHINGTON — It’s hard to believe that Robin Williams, so many of whose movie roles and standup performances radiated with humor and joy, could take his own life. But that’s what evidently happened Monday, as the actor and comedian died at the age of 63.

But Williams struggled with addiction and depression, and Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says it’s important to know that they are diseases, like any others.

“Nobody plans on doing this,” Hill said of Williams’ troubles on WTOP.

“Alcoholism and depression go hand-in-hand,” Hill added.

Depression usually comes first, and can easily lead someone to drinking, Hill says.

“Suddenly,” Hill says, “you’re battling two very difficult problems.”

Williams had had several stints in rehab.

“It seemed like he had treatment at some very reputable facilities … and he had extensive periods of sobriety,” Hill says.

But he adds that addiction is a “chronic relapsing/remitting condition.” In plain English: “These are medical illnesses; they are not character flaws. They must be treated, often very seriously,” sometimes with medication.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, TV personality and WTOP commentator, said brain disorders should not be demonized.

“Brain disorders need to be managed like any other medical condition,” Pinsky says.

“These are brain conditions that do sweep over us, but they are no different than a disorder of any other organ and unfortunately, frequently fatal,” Pinsky adds.

The fact that Williams went to rehab several times points out the seriousness of his problems, Hill says.

“The majority of people who have either alcohol problems or depression don’t end up getting treatment. And so the people who do end up in treatment are often have the most serious depressions and the most serious addictions. And


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