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Williamsí Death Stirs Dialogue

August 14, 2014- Tom Joseph
PHILADELPHIA - We are learning more about the demons comedian and actor Robin Williams faced in the forms of depression and addiction prior to his death earlier this week.

His passing has brought those illnesses to the forefront, but will it have a long-term impact on how they are perceived?

Samuel Romirowsky, a licensed psychologist in the Philadelphia area, says it's the kind of discussion that happens when someone famous dies tragically.

"We only talk about it when it hits home and we're so stunned by losing somebody, especially a celebrity," Romirowsky says. "But then when we sort of accommodate that that happened, that discussion is over."

Romirowsky adds society continues to view mental illness very differently than physical illnesses such as heart disease or cancer, diseases people feel no shame about and instead usually seek out immediate help to treat or cure.

He points out the shame that people with mental illness feel often drives them to self-medicate. And that can lead to another life-threatening disease - addiction.

"It's a very common partnership," he stresses. "So common that, in the industry, it's really referred to as a co-morbidity, which in plain English means a partnership of depression and addiction."

By removing the stigma surrounding depression, Romirowsky says, those with it are more likely to seek professional help, which can save lives.

"Research has shown that medication is very, very helpful for most people," he says. "Talking about one's problems or feelings is very, very helpful for most people. And doing both is the most effective for most people. "

Romirowsky says people for whom depression may be coming an issue should be encouraged to see their primary physician, a mental health expert or check resources offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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