Let me start this off by saying my first feeling after having learned about Robin Williams’ suicide was profound sadness. Sadness for the world’s loss of his amazing talent, sadness for his friends and family’s loss of an important member of their inner circle and sadness for the immense pain he must have been experiencing to feel suicide was his only escape. Sadness. This was followed shortly thereafter by fear. Fear for all of the people out there suffering with depression who might now see suicide as a more viable option. Here is the thing, suicide can be contagious. If a student in a high school commits suicide, the teachers and staff are immediately on high alert because the likelihood another student will attempt or commit suicide increases exponentially. This is why Robin Williams’ suicide scared the crap out of me.
Within the first week after his death, I had four clients who are suffering with depression comment in some way that they didn’t know how they were supposed to “make it” when he couldn’t. There were comments about his success, fame and money and how they didn’t know how regular people were supposed to push through their depression when he could not. It is also difficult because (after his death) Robin Williams was heralded in the media. Celebrities and civilians alike praised him and his amazing body of work. I’m not minimizing his talents, but in many ways this can feed into the fantasy individuals with depression might have about their own deaths. What I typically hear are these fantasies that suicide will freeing the families from the burden of taking care of them – or – others will lament their deaths (throwing themselves on their coffin) wishing they could have only treated them better.
I’m going to tell you the same thing I told them – you never know what is going on in someone else’s world. You cannot know their pain or challenges, especially when it is being hidden under a joke and a smile. It is important to turn his death into something positive by using it as a way to open up dialogue about mental health and suicide, not just to a psychologist, but to friends and family. There are always better options available other than suicide, even when they are hard to find. The important thing is to ask for help when you need it and to keep asking for it until you can start tofeel better. Hotlines are available to you 24 hours per day, every day of the week. Here is one you can always use: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.