Depression & Suicide: Destigmatizing Mental Health Issues

depression photo
Like most of the world, I was utterly shocked and saddened when I learned that Robin Williams took his own life.  For the rest of the night I was glued to the television, trying to make sense of how someone so funny, so talented, so outgoing, someone who always made us feel so good, could commit suicide. As I watched the news, I heard the personal details of the comedian’s life.  Alcohol, drugs, severe depression, rehab.  It became obvious that he was suffering from an inner turmoil that is far beyond our minds’ grasp.

For the most part, the media coverage of Robin Williams told his story in a sympathetic, compassionate manner.  They spoke positively of Mr. Williams’ talents, his captivating personality, and how his suicide is bringing mental health issues to the forefront.  Reporters interviewed other celebrities who were trying to wrap their brain around the fact that this kind, caring soul took his own life.While I have never suffered from depression myself, there are people in my life who are very dear to my heart who have been in the tight grips of depression.  I’ve seen their pain and hopelessness, and yes, at times I have suffered from the fallout.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to have never experienced the blackness of depression are not able to fully comprehend the despair of those who are afflicted.  We are standing there with our faces pressed against the glass on the outside, looking into a bleak, dark world we will never totally understand.So, to call Robin Williams “selfish,” and a “coward,” is unacceptable.  Fox News host Shep Smith, just hours after the actor’s death was announced, said on the air, “And yet, something inside you is so horrible, or you’re such a coward… that you decide you have to end it.”   After citing a quote from Mr. Williams in which he described his children as an inspiration, the news host also stated, “One of the children he loved, one of the children grieving tonight because their father killed himself in a fit of depression.”  Actor Todd Bridges called the suicide of Robin Williams “a very selfish act.”  These statements are from the privileged view of someone who has never felt the icy bite of severe depression.

Psychiatrist and author, Dr. Keith Ablow, said of Mr. Wlliams’ suicide, “…this imposter depression robbed him of the belief that he had pages left of his life story that would be great.”  Yes, severe depression robs a person of the belief that there are better things to come in their life.  People don’t kill themselves because of a “fit of depression.” When they look forward, they only see hopelessness and pain.  The depressed often feel that there is no escape, and they will be depressed forever.

Rather than shaking our fingers and calling someone selfish or cowardly for committing suicide, why don’t we focus on de-stigmatizing mental health issues, and educating ourselves on depression, anxiety, and suicide. Consider whether or not bringing in professional in-home caregivers might help.  Learn the symptoms of depression, learn about treatment options, learn the danger signs of suicide, and know what to do if you or someone you love is ever in this situation.  You might be saving a life.

“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. It was always thus, and always thus will be.” 
– Dead Poet’s Society

Depression and Suicide Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
How To Help Someone Who Is Suicidal
What Is Depression?
Depression Symptoms And Warning Signs


Photo by Darron Birgenheier