Like many, the death of Robin Williams surprised and saddened me. His means of death- suicide- interested me even more.
To some of you, this will sound completely morbidly fucked up. To others, it will be hitting the nail on the head. But whenever I hear of someone dying as a result of self infliction, it triggers my own suicidal ideations and obsessions. Am I saying Mr. Williams is a role model for committing suicide? Absolutely not. But I am saying that I get it. I understand that point of hopeless desperation. Of despising yourself so greatly. Of thinking that your absence will only make things better for those around you.
Depression Doesn’t Discriminate
It has been confirmed that Robin Williams battled drug and alcohol abuse throughout the years, and sought help for it on a few occasions. It is also reported that he had a long battle with depression. I’ve read a handful of articles claiming he had bipolar disorder, but nothing was solidly confirmed on that, so I won’t make claims on it either. Nonetheless, depression can be absolutely crippling. It is the job of folks in the entertainment industry to wear a face for their audience. To act. To become someone else. I remind myself that these entertainers are part of the same human race that I’m a part of. And I could not imagine wearing a new face all the time, hiding a harrowing illness. Not to mention living their life in the spotlight, under a microscope. I know when depression grabs a hold, there are days I don’t leave my bed. There are days I am not mindful on what clothes I wear in public or whether my hair is washed or not. Sometimes I can’t make it to work. Now I look at someone like Robin Williams, who has been in the spotlight for decades, that he no doubt has people watching him in public, judging his every move. Of course that’s the life of a celebrity, and some might argue that celebrities choose this lifestyle, etc., but when it comes down to it- celebrity or not- nobody chooses mental illness. It doesn’t matter if you’ve won numerous awards for your comedic and dramatic acting skills. Mental illness can still sink it’s teeth in. And sometimes it can get so bad, that -celebrity or not- you lose sight of hope.
Let’s Take a Minute to Talk
Okay as many of you know by now, I swim in the pools of suicidal thoughts, ideations, fantasies, and even a few well thought out plans. It is an ongoing nagging battle that I fight. These notions entertain a spectrum of how obsessive they are, and how desperate I feel. It’s not unusual for those with bipolar to have this. So, it may seem a little odd for me to post this next segment about suicide. Truth is, I don’t love that I have this part of the illness. It’s a horrible way to think, and education on suicide and suicide prevention is imperative to living a mentally healthy life. Plus, it could help save the lives of people you know.
Myth: Suicide can’t be prevented. If someone is set on taking their own life, there is nothing that can be done to stop them.
Fact: Suicide is preventable. The vast majority of people contemplating suicide don’t really want to die. They are seeking an end to intense mental and/or physical pain. Most have a mental illness. Interventions can save lives.
Myth: People who take their own life are selfish, cowards, weak or are just looking for “attention.”
Fact: More than 90% of people who take their own life have at least one and often more than one treatable mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and/or alcohol and substance abuse. With better recognition and treatment many suicides can be prevented.
Myth: Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will put the idea in their head and cause them to act on it.
Fact: When you fear someone you know is in crisis or depressed, asking them if they are thinking about suicide can actually help. By giving a person an opportunity to open up and share their troubles you can help alleviate their pain and find solutions.
Myth: Teenagers and college students are the most at risk for suicide.
Fact: The suicide rate for this age group is below the national average. Suicide risk increases with age. Currently, the age group with the highest suicide rate in the U.S. is middle-aged men and women between the ages of 45 and 64. The suicide rate is still highest among white men over the age of 65.
Risk factors for suicide are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take her or his life. Suicide risk tends to be highest when someone has several risk factors at the same time.
The most frequently cited risk factors for suicide are:
- Mental disorders, in particular:
- Depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
- Alcohol or substance abuse or dependence
- Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
- Conduct disorder (in youth)
- Psychotic disorders; psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Impulsivity and aggression, especially in the context of the above mental disorders
- Previous suicide attempt
- Family history of attempted or completed suicide
- Serious medical condition and/or pain
It is important to bear in mind that the large majority of people with mental disorders or other suicide risk factors do not engage in suicidal behavior.
Environmental Factors That Increase Suicide Risk
Some people who have one or more of the major risk factors above can become suicidal in the face of factors in their environment, such as:
- A highly stressful life event such as losing someone close, financial loss, or trouble with the law
- Prolonged stress due to adversities such as unemployment, serious relationship conflict, harassment or bullying
- Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide (contagion)
- Access to lethal methods of suicide during a time of increased risk
Again, though, it is important to remember that these factors do not usually increase suicide risk for people who are not already vulnerable because of a preexisting mental disorder or other major risk factors. Exposure to extreme or prolonged environmental stress, however, can lead to depression, anxiety, and other disorders that in turn, can increase risk for suicide.
My final words to you on this topic is to please talk to someone if you feel you are a danger to yourself. If you are feeling hopeless, allow someone to show you hope. If you think there is nobody to talk to, call a hotline number. There is always someone available and willing to hear what you have to say. On that note, we say farewell to a legendary performer, a legendary person, Mr. Robin Williams. May he finally be at peace. And may we remember him for what he loved to do- make people smile.
Suicide Prevention Resources:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline