Such comments are mean-spirited and stigmatising. At the same time, however, I find it problematic that friends of mine who have recently criticised Williams' political affiliations have been accused of insensitivity towards mentally distressed individuals. As I have argued previously on this blog, it is patronising to argue that people who suffer psychologically should be exempted from political criticism. Williams' suffering should be discussed compassionately; but there is little doubt that he was a nationalist and an imperialist. While he joined a picket line during the screenwriters' strike, in 2008, on the 60th anniversary of Israel's ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, Williams, along with many other celebrities, appeared on a giant billboard in Times Square wishing Israel a 'happy birthday'. He also performed for US soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, effectively serving as a cheerleader for US imperialism.
For some, however, any such criticism is tantamount to stigmatisation. But the attempt to situate psychologically distressed individuals 'beyond politics' is an ideological gesture that is itself dehumanising and patronising. Indeed, is there not a consistency between this gesture and the more general contemporary tendency to frame the etiology, ontology and treatment of mental distress in purely biomedical terms, thereby removing the sufferer and her experiences from all social and political determination?
People who suffer from depression and those who commit suicide should certainly not be regarded - as they often have been regarded historically - as weak-willed or monstrous; but neither should they be exempted from critique. They are, like all human beings, complex and imperfect - and some of them are politically reactionary (Winston Churchill, a racist imperialist who also happened to suffer from the 'black dog' of depression, is the pre-eminent example). The point is simple: it should be possible to criticize a person's politics and, at the same time, to acknowledge and express sympathy for her suffering.