Skip to main content

How I overcame depression

By Rick Martin
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
<a href=''>Robin Williams</a> was honored during this year's Emmy telecast with a tribute led by friend Billy Crystal, who hosted the "Comic Relief" benefits with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg (seen here in 1986). Williams died August 11 at age 63. Click through to see moments from the beloved actor's remarkable life. Robin Williams was honored during this year's Emmy telecast with a tribute led by friend Billy Crystal, who hosted the "Comic Relief" benefits with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg (seen here in 1986). Williams died August 11 at age 63. Click through to see moments from the beloved actor's remarkable life.
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
Comedic actor Robin Williams dies
  • Rick Martin: When I heard the news about Robin Williams' death I felt heartbroken
  • Martin: It brought back memories of my own battle with depression as a youth
  • He says depression is overwhelming, but it can be overcome - it takes a village
  • Martin: Don't be afraid to share your feelings, ask for help and reach out for support

Editor's note: Rick Martin is a Senior News Editor for the Affiliate Content Center at CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Monday night's tribute to Robin Williams at the Emmy Awards was moving and powerful and funny, like the man himself.

When I first heard the news about Williams' apparent suicide, like millions of his fans, I felt heartbroken. He was so brave, talented, funny and brilliant. What a loss of a great actor and a great man.

In days that followed, I learned that Williams had been battling severe depression. This brought back memories of my own battle with depression many years ago when I was a teenager. I never told anyone about it because I was terrified that I would be judged.

Rick Martin
Rick Martin

But the time has come for me to share this with my family, friends and the world. Earlier this year when I read that six students from a high school in Virginia committed suicide during a three-year period, my eyes welled with tears and I felt incredibly sad. I knew I could not remain silent anymore. I didn't want to read about another student taking his own life who had to deal with the same intense, complicated challenges that I dealt with.

I called the school district and was invited to speak at its Teen Suicide Prevention Summit. I felt humbled and honored, and scared at the same time. After speaking at the summit, guests of all ages lined the aisle to tell me how my message gave them hope.

In essence, what I shared in that speech was that depression can be overcome, but it takes a village. You never know what sharing your concern may mean to someone in pain. My pastor recently told me I have become a living testimony of how a support network can help others find rest in the midst of storm.

Take: A Call for Decency

Living life as a husband, a father and a journalist assigned to overnight shifts is not easy. Even the best of us will be tested to their limits. Some days, I don't know if I'm getting it right at all.

Those who suffer depression have it tough. I would like to share how I found hope in the midst of my storm. I created a system for myself to remain focused, LASER focused, on staying free from storm.

For young people who face storms of their own, here's my story.

I was that kid, in the midst of storm. I am the son of proud immigrant parents who drilled into me a sense of duty to repay the opportunity afforded me. With American "success" comes the responsibility to accept the full weight of their dreams of a better life for their children. I thank my parents for setting standards that stay with me to this day.

My parents moved us to a nice D.C. suburban neighborhood surrounded by opportunity, but it was isolating. At age 16, I fell into a deep and dark emotional hole. The stress of school, sports and assimilation became too much to bear. I felt guilty for wanting to abandon my cultural heritage. I stopped feeling loved. I quit caring. I would later learn that this despair I felt was actually a suffering from depression. But at the time, I only knew that I was in unimaginable darkness and loneliness, even if I were surrounded by people.

Going public with depression

CNN has put together a collection of resources that may be helpful if you are struggling with depression. You can find it at

One day after school, I was at home babysitting my napping, 7-year-old sister. I became overwhelmed with anxiety. Tears rolled down my face. I was scared, but didn't know what I would do. I picked up the phone and called a classmate named Lori Lee. I don't recall exactly what I said, but I know I was at my end. She listened intently. After we hung up, she called a teacher, Mrs. Jo Henry, in my high school and within minutes Jo appeared on my doorstep. Suddenly, I was not alone.

She called my parents, and suddenly I was surrounded by a village. A village that gave me the courage not to hide from them my pain.

I held on to that village and never looked back. I used those experiences to form a list of guiding principles that I have honed through life that I use to weather those everyday storms of life. I call it the LASER system. LASER is an acronym for Listen, Assess, Support, Execute and Respond. It's designed to provide a systematic, positive and consistent approach to help individuals endure challenges and perform through stress.

Mental health help: Where to turn

In my role at CNN as a Senior News Editor, I help decide what gets covered. Unfortunately, all too frequently, I cover stories of youngsters, professional athletes and personalities who didn't find a way out of despair and die tragically. Robin Williams, sadly, is one of many on the list.

The common thread we often learn in those cases is that there was no village. There was no network. There was no one there to Listen and Act, to show them that life is full of possibilities and promise, and there are people who love them. That they have value.

I write to reach those who find themselves slipping, and to urge those around them to help. You can manage through crisis. How?

Listen (intently to when someone is in trouble)

Assess (what the problem could be)

Support (the person to live and dream)

Execute (a plan to get help)

Respond (if initial actions don't help)

The first letter in each of the words just mentioned forms the word laser, like a beam of light that can help you in the dark.

I was on the verge of being defeated more times than I care to count. At each challenge, I found a way out of the storm with the village. I was armed with a LASER focus that in life I am not alone, that storms come and go.

Can you be a part of a village to someone? Can you be their haven from storms? The difference begins with you. Each and every one of you.

To anyone who might be struggling -- you're not alone. Struggle is natural. It's OK to be afraid. It's OK to hurt. What's not OK is keeping those feelings to yourself. It takes courage to share those feelings. Reach out to your village.

To those around someone who's struggling, know that it took me 10 years to fully share with my school friend how her single, simple act of making a phone call to a caring teacher set a chain of events that changed the course of my life.

Who would have thought that that kid who struggled to succeed academically and socially then would be flourishing at arguably the most prestigious and influential media organization in the world?

I thank God every day that someone showed up with an umbrella in the midst of my storm, and gave me a haven, and that a village came to make me believe in my promise and my purpose, and that I can look in the mirror every day now with LASER focus, with hope, in spite of the storms, and use my principles to live and thrive.

My heart goes out to Robin Williams' wife and family. For all those who are struggling with depression, don't slip into the darkness, because it doesn't have to be that way.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on

Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?