Depression, suicide, and the loss of Robin Williams
Like so many others, we’re deeply saddened by the death of famous actor and comedian Robin Williams. His death, preliminarily declared a suicide by local authorities, comes as a shock to many who knew him as a comedic genius who brought laughter and joy to millions. While he openly discussed his drug and alcohol addictions and commitment to sobriety, he never publicly acknowledged any diagnosis of depression or other mental illness. His publicist and friends, however, have shared that he was “battling severe depression” and in Tuesday’s press conference authorities said he was seeking treatment for depression.
This tragic and untimely death of someone known and loved by millions has started a dialogue about mental illness and suicide. Since the announcement of Robin Williams’ death and the way he died, there has been an outpouring of support, discussion about mental illness and addictions, words of encouragement, and sharing of important suicide prevention resources and numbers to call for help, the most common being the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
To aid in this important discussion and opportunity for education, we’d like to share with you this blog by Hollis Easter, Hotline Coordinator for Reachout of St. Lawrence County, Inc. and suicide prevention educator.
And while we’re educating others about how to positively contribute to these discussions, let’s talk about that common saying: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” People who say this surely mean well and are only trying to help. Perhaps they think they’ve found that magic phrase that will speak to the person who they want to help and get that person to “snap out of it.” The truth is that most people who attempt suicide were not doing so as a permanent solution to a temporary problem; they wanted a permanent end to weeks, months, or years of personal torment and agony, often due to a medical condition. To say that it’s a temporary issue greatly minimalizes the deep pain and very real suffering they are going through, and likely have been going through for some time.
For more thoughts on why this turn of phrase should be avoided, check out another recent blog by Hollis titled
It is our hope that out of this loss, more people will be educated on the topics of suicide and mental illness. And while a flurry of media attention was placed on Mr. Williams’ death it’s important to note that on Monday an estimated 10 Canadians and 107 more Americans (108 including Mr. Williams) also died by suicide. Each of these deaths is tragic and leaves in its wake at least six people deeply devastated by their loss.
If you work in the suicide prevention industry: Thank you. Your patience, empathy, and compassion is a true gift and you’ve surely touched more lives than you may realize. Whether you speak directly with those contemplating suicide on a hotline, educate others on warning signs and intervention methods, or play one of the numerous other roles in the industry, the work you do saves lives.