Ask an Expert: Did Robin Williams Show Signs of Bi-Polar Depression?

By Rita Milios 02/05/15
Today's question is on if anyone could have seen signals that the late Robin Williams was suffering from bi-polar depression and if it can be detected in loved ones.

The news says Robin Williams suffered from Bi-Polar Depression­. What if anything is the difference between that and regular clinical depression? What are the signs to be aware of? Clearly it is not the same as just feeling depressed and moody for a while.


Rita Milios: Depression is more than just sadness.  It involves a major life-altering change in perception. You know you are depressed when life itself seems to have lost its zest and things that used to interest you or excite you now seem flat and void of emotional appeal. This deadening of emotion is the hallmark of “regular” depression. Depression also often manifests with self-defeating beliefs, such as a sense of personal worthlessness, or a feeling of helplessness.  Anxiety, irritability, fatigue and loss of concentration are other symptoms commonly experienced.

Bi-Polar Depression by contrast is the “down” cycle of bi-polar disorder, where a person’s moods cycle back and forth between two extremes­ – either a hyper-excited “high” or a depleted, depressed “low.” The swings of mood distinguish bi-polar depression from regular depression. To be diagnosed with bi-polar, one must have experienced at least one “manic” state, where increased energy, racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep and hyper-activity are experienced. There is often a sense of grandiosity and a hyper-awareness of emotions. In a manic state, sound judgment is often missing and irrational or destructive activities such as overspending and other high-risk activities may seem logical at the time.

Bi-polar cycling can occur with long intervals in between–several months or more. But some people with bi-polar cycle between high and low moods on a daily basis, or even many times in a single day. Sometimes the manic state can be channeled ­–into work, creativity or other positive outlets. Still, the “crash” after a manic state and the exhaustion­ – physically, mentally and emotionally– are a high price to pay.

Both regular depression and bi-polar depression place a person at greater risk for suicide, often because the strain of managing the overwhelming feelings becomes too great to bear.



Rita Milios, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice, author of more than 30 books, and frequent professional lecturer and on-camera expert. She also facilitates workshops and training for clinicians, therapists, writers, holistic practitioners, businesses and associations. She is known as "The Mind Mentor" because of her unique approach to “mind tools training.”    Full Bio.

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