Robin Williams struggle with mental health, addiction and hidden brain disease

Robin Williams struggle with mental health, addiction and hidden brain disease

08/11/2022

Eight years ago today, the world was left in complete and utter shock when we learned of the death of Robin Williams.

The legendary actor had taken his own life in his home in California and the news of his tragic death devastated people all around the globe.

After his passing, the factors surrounding his death were widely discussed, with initial reports suggesting that the comedian had been struggling from depression.

But although Robin did battle with mental health issues during his lifetime, it was revealed months after his death that this was not the main contributing factor to his suicide.

The actor's wife, Susan Williams, has since spoken openly about the real reason behind Robin's death — a "little-known but deadly" brain disease.

How did Robin Williams lose his life?

Robin Williams tragically lost his life to suicide in 2014.

Initially, reports indicated that Williams had been suffering from depression, and that this was the main contributing factor to his decision to take his own life.

But a year later, Robin's widow Susan claimed that it was not depression that had killed the actor. She told People magazine: “It was not depression that killed Robin. Depression was one of let’s call it 50 symptoms, and it was a small one.”

Instead, she revealed that the real cause of Robin's death was a debilitating brain disease he didn't know he was suffering from.

What was Robin Williams' disease?

Following an autopsy of his brain in 2014, it was revealed that Robin William's had been suffering from a brain disease called Lewy Body Dementia prior to his death.

The actor was unaware that he was suffering from the debilitating condition and had been misdiagnosed with Parkinson's.

In a 2016 paper titled 'The terrorist inside my husband's brain', Robin's wife recounted more details about his heartbreaking experience of the disease.

She wrote: "As you may know, my husband Robin Williams had the little-known but deadly Lewy body disease (LBD).

"He died from suicide in 2014 at the end of an intense, confusing, and relatively swift persecution at the hand of this disease's symptoms and pathology."

She went on to reveal that Robin's case had been "extreme", saying: "All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen.

"He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem."

In 2013, Robin began to experience the first symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia and Susan said "his fear and anxiety skyrocketed to a point that was alarming" after this.

He then went on to suffer from "problems with paranoia, delusions and looping, insomnia, memory, and high cortisol levels".

While filming for Night At The Museum 3, Robin started having trouble remembering his lines, an issue he had never had before.

Susan said this was "devastating to him", writing: "How I wish he could have known why he was struggling, that it was not a weakness in his heart, spirit, or character."

People with LBD who are highly intelligent may appear to be OK for longer, and this is likely why Robin went so long without knowing that he was suffering from the disease.

Susan added: "I will never know the true depth of his suffering, nor just how hard he was fighting. But from where I stood, I saw the bravest man in the world playing the hardest role of his life."

Robin Willams' struggles with mental health

Although it wasn't the main contributing factor to his death, Robin Williams did struggle with his mental health during certain points in his life.

His wife said that this may have been part of the reason why he wasn't diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia while he was alive, as prior history can complicate a diagnosis.

She explained: "In Robin's case, he had a history of depression that had not been active for 6 years.

"So when he showed signs of depression just months before he left, it was interpreted as a satellite issue, maybe connected to PD."

Last year, Williams' son Zak opened up about his father's mental health issues in the months before his death as he struggled with his misdiagnosis.

He told The Genius Life podcast: "What he was going through didn't match one to one [with] many Parkinson's patients' experiences,

“It was a period for him of intense searching and frustration, it’s just devastating.”

Zak revealed that his father had started to suffer from depression again because of the disease he didn't know he had.

He explained: "There was just more anxiety and depression and just things he was experiencing and talking to me about that made me realise he was very uncomfortable."

Robin Williams' battle with addiction

Robin Williams had suffered from depression earlier on in his life, and research shows that up to a third of people with depression also meet the criteria for substance use disorder.

Unfortunately, this was the case for Robin.

The actor became an alcohol and cocaine addict at the height of his career in the 1970s, but quit both before the birth of his son in 1983.

Robin stayed sober for 20 years, but in 2003 he suffered from a relapse as he began drinking again.

He told The Guardian that it took him three years to kick the addiction again, adding: "For that first week you lie to yourself, and tell yourself you can stop, and then your body kicks back and says, no, stop later. And then it took about three years, and finally you do stop."

In her paper, Robin's wife confirmed that while he struggled in the last months of his life, he was "clean and sober" throughout.

If you're struggling and need to talk, the Samaritans operates a free helpline open 24/7 on 116 123. Alternatively you can email [email protected] if you'd prefer to write down how you feel.

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