The suicide of Robin Williams has hit us all hard, in uniquely personal ways. It is very difficult to come to grips with the fact that this brilliantly talented, exceedingly kind and caring, and downright funny man had so much pain within him that he no longer wanted to live.
Many people have experienced the kind of deep depression that led Robin to believe that suicide was his only alternative. Indeed, 15 percent of people diagnosed with clinical depression commit suicide, and multiples of that number make failed attempts to take their own lives. Thankfully, only a small percentage of suicide attempts are successful. Still, more than 30,000 Americans take their own lives each year, though more than 800,000 people try to kill themselves. By most accounts, there are at least 4.5 million suicide survivors in the United States today. Depression is very real, and very debilitating. In fact, the World Health Organization says depression is the #1 disability in the world. Further, it is known that depression is one of the prime risk factors for suicide.
I personally know someone that committed suicide, and you probably do as well. What both of us probably do not know is how many other people that we know have tried to take their own lives. How many of those wounded people are your brothers, sisters, cousins, or friends? Or your children? Even worse, because of the stigma surrounding depression, many people who attempt suicide have never sought the professional help which could allow them to feel better.
How many people do you know that are depressed, right this very minute? Lost a partner? Lost a job? Addicted to drugs or alcohol? These can all be triggers for depression or suicide, and we all need to be more aware and more vigilant. Yes, we all need to be our “brother’s keeper” to some extent and reach out to those we think need it, and especially to encourage those who are depressed to get help.
What We Can All Do
Treatment works! Studies have shown that 80 percent of depressed patients are successfully treated, when they seek help, and that therapy and medication can effectively prevent many suicides.
Education and awareness are critical. Know the signs of depression and how to help. We can all learn a lot more and reach out far more often.
As J.K. Rowling points out, we have different moods, and sadness is a normal reaction when life is a struggle; but depression is much more than temporary sadness. People with depression often describe “living in a black hole”, being apathetic, feeling empty. Teenagers that are depressed often express it as irritability rather than sadness. Men might be inclined to act aggressive and angry.
Regardless, depression engulfs a person’s entire life, interfering with eating, working, sleeping, studying, or having fun. The feelings of helplessness are intense and do not let up. If someone you care about seems extremely depressed, especially if there has been a trigger event– a painful loss, event or change– be extra vigilant with these signs. These are all serious cries for help– do not ignore them! If you feel that someone is depressed, talk with them and encourage them to see a doctor for help.
- Talk about killing himself or wanting to die.
- Searching online for suicide methods, buying large quantities of pills or a gun.
- Talk of feeling trapped and in pain, or a burden to others.
- Increasing alcohol or drug use.
- Sleeping pattern changes– too little or too much.
- Extreme mood swings, unexplained rage.
- Loss of interest in people and things.
- Giving away possessions.
If there is one thing that we have all learned from the Robin Williams tragedy it is that it’s hard to see someone else’s pain– and that we need to do a better job of it! All reports say that neither his wife nor his personal assistant had any clue what was to come, according to TMZ. A colleague that talked to him just the day before mentioned that they had a normal conversation with him…but also stated that Robin “lived in a dark place.” What if that conversation had turned into a more caring conversation, or his colleague had come over to check on him, or called his wife to tell her that he seemed really unhappy and out of sorts? Maybe, or maybe not. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if it would have made a difference in this case.
To be sure, Robin has left us with an amazing lifetime of work to make us laugh. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if another part of Robin’s Legacy was that his death led us to all help prevent as much suicide and heartache as possible, and ensure that every. single. person. knows that there is help available…and there is HOPE?
Always keep Robin’s words in mind: “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Let’s change the world!
More Info and Resources:
American Association of Suicidology: http://www.suicidology.org/
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: http://www.save.org
National Council for Suicide Prevention: http://www.ncsponline.org/