Robin Williams
Robin Williams' death was announced on 12 AugustGetty

Since Robin Williams tragically passed away at the age of 63 earlier this morning, it has emerged that the star had been battling severe depression of late.

To many, the tragic and sudden loss comes as a shock but the fact that the Jumanji star's final months were marked by sadness makes the news seem harder to swallow.

A representative for Williams told Entertainment Weekly, "Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time."

But many will be left asking "how could someone who brought so much laughter and joy to the world, be depressed?"

Robin Williams: His Life and LegacyIBTimes UK

Well, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression, which effects one in five people, is one of the most common mental disorders in the US, but there is no easy cure for it.

Despite that, many people do not understand what having depression means and often think it is the same thing as sadness.

According to Stephen Ilardi, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas: "'Depression' is one of the most tragically misunderstood words in the English language.

"When people refer to depression in everyday conversation, they usually have something far less serious in mind," than what the disorder actually entails. "In fact, the term typically serves as a synonym for mere sadness."

Here are some facts about depression:

  • Depression is very common: one-in-five people become depressed at some point in their lives.
  • In depression, low feelings don't go away and interfere with everyday life.
  • It is normal to recover from depression, only for it to return at a later date.
  • Episodes of depression can last several months.

Why do people get depressed?

Sometimes there are obvious triggers for depression, such as a bereavement, an accident, long-term illness or the breakdown of a relationship. Other times the reason can be unclear.

What does depression feel like?

The feeling of depression is longer and more unpleasant then the short bouts of unhappiness that everyone experiences occasionally.

Typical symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • Loss of interest in life and pleasurable activities
  • Emotional numbness
  • Persistent sadness
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Binge eating
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Physical pain (chest pains, muscle pains and headaches)
  • Prolonged negative thoughts about yourself
  • Self-harm, including suicide attempts

Depression is usually treated with talking and cognitive behavioural therapies, and medication.

More often then not sufferers will self-medicate, using drugs or alcohol, in an attempt to handle the pain themselves. This can lead to addiction, which can amplify the effects of depression.

In Williams' case, he struggled with cocaine addiction and alcoholism in the 1980s. In 2006, he checked himself into rehab after a relapse, and finally last month he checked into Hazelden, a rehabilitation facility in Minnesota.

Tragically, we will never know what the Mrs Doubtfire star was feeling in the days leading to his death but comedian Jason Manford summed it up perfectly: "If depression can kill one of the world's greatest funny men, it can get any of us at any time."

Therefore, hopefully we can start to take the illness seriously, raise more awareness and help others who we suspect may be suffering from depression.

To talk to someone about suicide concerns, contact HopeLine UK on 0800 068 4141.

For practical advice on suicide prevention, visit www.papyrus.org.uk.