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Robin Williams' death brings up link between creativity and mental illness

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Robin Williams photograph. (Source: Getty Images) Robin Williams photograph. (Source: Getty Images)

In the wake of Robin Williams' suicide, we are left to wonder how a man who lit up our screens with his smile, always exuding happiness on camera, could be in such a deep state of sadness out of the spotlight.

Local experts weighed in, as did one East Texas father who knows firsthand how a smile can turn tragic so fast.

August marks the two-year anniversary of Patrick McSwane’s death.

“You don’t know the heartbreak that suicide brings. I’d give anything to have Patrick back,” Doug McSwane, whose son suffered from mental illness, said.

For Patrick’s father, news of Robin Williams' death by suicide brought back harsh memories.

“Patrick was creative. I mean from early age he was drawing things, and we’ve got a lot of his drawings at home,” McSwane said of his son.

A recent study found a link stating that more creative people may include many more stimuli in their mental processes than do less creative people.

“Especially the ones who have creativity in spurts often struggle with something like a bipolar disorder, and it can often be the fine line between a creative moment and then it can tip over into a manic moment pretty easily,” Fonda Latham, with Samaritan counseling center of Tyler, said.

“People think 'Well, here’s Robin Williams, he’s got four movies for the future. I mean he’s got it all together;' but no, he suffered from severe depression that eventually gets him,” McSwane said.

McSwane said his family is also normal, comfortable, but still were not exempt from mental illness.

“We often think of people with mental illness as ‘those people’ and they look a certain way and they act a certain way all the time, and that’s just not the case,” Latham explained.

Behind an infectious smile may lie a vicious illness.

“You talk about the community that he was a part of and how much he was well-liked. Patrick was very much that way. Before that disease hit him, Patrick was well-liked,” McSwane said.

So many similarities with one man’s struggle in the spotlight.

“And probably one of the things that made Robin Williams tremendous at who he is and what he did was the fact that he understood struggling with depression and he understood the struggle and you could see it in his eyes. It would come out in so many ways in his eyes, even when he was laughing,” Latham said.

McSwane said, “You know, he stayed loving the whole time. I mean he loved his family. I think the same thing’s true for Robin Williams.”

There will be an event in Tyler on September 20 called Peace of Mind Conference. It is a community conversation about mental health and ways to help. If you would like more information, click here.

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