In the wake of media reports about comedian Robin Williams’ suicide, many may likely be wondering if the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness, specifically depression, will continue. When thinking of a depressed person considering suicide, Robin Williams’ face would likely have been the last one to come to peoples minds. Many people around the world are still shocked that the famous actor who brought so much joy and laughter to others could have been in so much pain.
For some, however, the death of a celebrity by his own hand brings an opportunity to shed light on a sensitive subject. A number of people worldwide do not realize that depression is not a choice. Many do not understand that it cannot be turned on and off at whim. Regrettably, rocker Henry Rollins, expressed this sentiment rather harshly in his comments following Williams’ death. He has since apologized for his comments stating that it was not his intent to hurt anyone.
Facts state that suicide is listed as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among college students. In 2011, almost 40,000 Americans took their own lives. It has also been reported that untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. With the numbers seeming to increase over the last decade, some researchers have called suicide a problem of epidemic proportion.
Robin Williams was famous. On the outside, the comedian seemed to have lived a happy life, but Robin Williams was also reported to suffer from depression and he allegedly struggled with substances. These factors may end up being determined to be what influenced his decision to take his own life. For some, it is hard to fathom America’s funny man taking his own life. For others, his death might likely be an opportunity to reduce the stigma that continues to surround depression and suicide.
California therapist Linda Borders-Killian, who lost her husband to suicide, is committed to the idea of educating the public. Explaining that suicide is often linked to depression, she goes on to say, “If we can cure depression, we can prevent suicide.” Christian leader, Rick Warren, whose son also committed suicide, is also endeavoring to breaking the silence. Tanya Brown, sister of O.J. Simpson’s slain wife, Nicole, has suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. She says, that it is time for people to start talking, “Starting the conversation is creating a comfortable space without judgment.”
Suicide not only affects the victim, but it often leaves loved ones floundering in a sea of grief, confusion and sometimes guilt. Many who are left behind wonder what they could have done to prevent the loss of their loved one. A recent Denver Post article reinforces the notion that it is the stigma that prevents people from asking for help. The authors stress that removing the fear and the shame associated with mental illness will open the door for people to ask for help.
Recommendations include sharing stories so that people know that they are not alone and speaking in a language that recognizes people with mental illness as opposed to the mentally ill. It is also recommended that people educate themselves about mental illness, depression, and suicide. It is important to know the warning signs. As unfortunate as suicide is and as much as this country is saddened by the death of one who brought so much joy, Robin Williams’ death, may likely reduce the continuing stigma related to suicide.
By Constance Spruill