By Elise Viebeck - 08/14/14 10:15 AM EDT
The top U.S. government official on mental health said the death of Robin Williams should be a call to action for researchers working to treat serious mental illness and prevent suicide.
National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas Insel mourned Williams in a blog post and acknowledged that acute depression and other psychological disorders can be just as fatal as "big killers" like cancer and heart disease.
"For too many people, mental illness can be fatal. … Even those who have been very public about their struggle and have had access to the best available care still, too often, die from depression."
Williams's death on Monday sent shockwaves through audiences around the world and has sparked debate over a possible link between creative talent and mental illness.
A sheriff in Marin County, Calif., where Williams lived, said the actor died by suicide and had recently sought treatment for depression.
During an otherwise quiet recess week, lawmakers and government officials offered tributes to Williams in the form of photographs and remembrances.
"In view of the challenges of managing multiple disorders — in this case addiction and depression — what makes the story of Robin Williams so remarkable is his many years of success as a comedic genius," Insel wrote.
"Despite the energy and focus it often takes to cope with and manage mental illness, Robin Williams was able to bring joy and laughter to millions of people around the world."