By Cheryl Pomer, Special for USDR
Neuroscience Draws The Curtain Back On Robin Williams’ Brilliance.
Losing extraordinarily talented people remains more than a memorable moment. When we see them, we feel and recognize their gift that they possess and share with humanity. Whether it be entertainment, sports, political or spiritual leaders, or business people, we identify their “larger than life” status.
Robin William’s comedic whit was only a tiny fraction of his prowess. Certainly possessing a level of intelligence that he could call upon with spontaneous precision was in his arsenal of entertainment. Additionally, Williams had an affinity for stage performance and imitation that could strike a nerve of commonality and identification that would cross cultural and ethnic lines that few could not relate to.
There has been much discussion concerning his depression and causes that may have led to his suicide. Apparently, the culmination of many different facets of his life are worthy of understanding in order to gain a better perspective of the events leading up to his death and more importantly offering relevance.
It is said humankind’s greatest want is that they mattered. Williams’ openness in revealing his conflict with overpowering forces both on and off the stage can be scripted into the science dedicated to finding ways to avert such a fate as his. The field of neuro-biology and brain anatomical science is fascinating in discovering the development of neuropsychological and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and occurrences comparable to Williams’ situation.
He admittedly suffered from depression and underwent bouts with alcohol and drug use throughout his life and career of fame. In fact he often made reference to such habits in his comedy routines. Williams reflected on this aspect of his life in a poignant article appearing in The Guardian Newspaper 2010 while promoting a film that eerily had a story of a faked suicide and the grief industry that shed insight into his feelings of “general and all around fearfulness and anxiety about everything” and confidingly “was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust – that’s hard to recover from”.
Williams’ brave revelations can now be better understood when placed in the context of new brain research using brain imaging that discovered a connection between depression and changes found in two regions of the brain (the amygdala and prefrontal cortex). Findings showed that a sustained elevation of activity in the amygdala that is linked to fear responses, pleasure, and anxiety disorders, suppresses the ability of the prefrontal cortex that is responsible in part for executive function and social “control”, that when depressed control occurs, can lead to socially unacceptable outcomes.
We continue to prosper from Robin Williams’ contributions during and after his life as it is a matter of survival connecting science to real life experience. Such a spirit and ability to evoke laughter and happiness amongst so many was obvious, but as we mourn his passing, he still leaves with us the ability to analyze and understand how depression evolved to the extent that it did. Curable? Preventable? We cannot be totally sure; however we do know that we can trace those aspects of our lives through scientific studies.
Science has categorized depression stemming from five main areas: genetics, brain chemistry, stressful life events, medical problems and medications. Neuro researchers are paying vigorous attention to discovering new ways of identifying risks and vulnerability to depression or suicidal behavior because of limited effects of pharmacological treatments. Remission and recovery is seen as an attainable goal with early detection and more robust treatment guidelines derived from a neurobiological model together with mood repair strategies.
Additionally, the improved understanding of underlying brain chemistry (in particular, neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) is a significant part of a non-pharmacological approach. The imbalance or depletion of these essential transmitters may have you waking with a depressed mood every day for what would seem like no reason.
These powerful substances boost the signals that deliver a “high” or sense of pleasure, “feel good”, reward, and motivation. It could be that “high” performers and entertainers get on stage and captivate their audience where ovations are a large part of their entertainment motivation seeking curtain call after curtain call. What happens when the lights are down and the audience has left? Is there that desire to want that effect to continue on? Perhaps replace it with whatever we can to achieve that sensational gratification or masterfully manage our lives to avoid the pitfalls?
Simply the well-being and happiness of humans and animals depend on these substances. Serotonin derived from biochemical “tryptophan”, focuses on the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) and largely functions in the regulation of mood, appetite, and sleep. Dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior and motor control. We do know that we can trace the core foundation of disruption, release and uptake of these substances to your brain, is linked to foods we eat, factors that contribute to a “poor gut” or GI Tract, and exercise. Coupled with a lifestyle that promotes good sleep patterns, exercise and a diet rich in essential amino acids, especially tryptophan and tyrosine, one can potentially help stave off those things that can mount over time that can cause depression and promote problems leading to serious consequences.
Williams’ diagnosis of Parkinson’s may have influenced his final act. Abnormal neurotransmitter activity has been identified with Parkinson’s, in particular Dopamine. Although depression has been linked to early Parkinson’s disease there does not appear to be a link from Parkinson’s to suicide and the speculation that the pharmacological treatment was the culprit remains a mystery.
The glass pedestal that some are placed upon often times is a lot more fragile than the solid base that we think it serves to be. Ironically, as human beings we seek those individuals that can soar with the eagles but never contemplate landing like a ton of bricks when the wings no longer can fly. Do we ever really take the time to consider the frail aspect of those with whom we only want to see the “super hero” side? Living up to that “super hero” status can be daunting and grounds to establish disaster and create that foundation that is virtually impossible to sustain.
Artificial icons are established by us through media mania and the desire to be in that world of the rich and famous. As mere mortals, that notion of living vicariously through those that serve to be that image that we can only dream to be is as close as we can get to stardom. But as we turn the tables to the stars that feel a responsibility to live up to that icon image that never wants to let their hair down to disappoint those that are star struck, how sustainable is such a life?
The cause and effect is a never ending cycle that has deep seeded and complex roots, however regardless, the collateral damage that is created sometimes has fatal consequences that manifests itself like what we see through Robin Williams’ life. So what is the lesson learned here that can help those in the trails of Williams and many others? Awareness, understanding, reconciliation of life’s past and present stressful events, fitness, nutrition to support a balanced brain and GI tract, and common sense is a good start.
Cheryl is a leading authority in a unique area of business and personal development having introduced her proprietary Leadership Physiology Systems™. This new revolutionary performance model was designed to help business owners mitigate the complexities and effects of monumental stress and disruption that has become a normal part of electronic life in the 21st century and scale their personal and business productivity while they become healthier and gain the prosperity they deserve.
Cheryl holds many certifications and licenses along with extensive study with renowned doctors, researchers and practitioners in the fields of brain, and anatomical movement performance science qualifying her to practice in the corporate, clinical, and commercial and community sectors of the health and fitness industry.
Cognitive therapy vs. medications for depression: Treatment outcomes and neural mechanisms
Perspective The neuroscience of suicidal behaviors: what can we Expect from endophenotype strategies?
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