Yes, this is another Robin Williams post in the wake of his death. As friends and fans and colleagues around the world react to his passing, it seems as though for whatever reason, Williams’ death lingers with us today.
Why is that?
My guess is the reason that Robin Williams’ death has remained on minds and hearts overnight is because we don’t expect the “funnyman” to die by his own hand, as initial reports have stated.
Robin Williams was one of those people we take for granted.
I feel like we just kind of expected he’d always be around, making funny films until fading into obscurity or retirement.
Personally, I thought perhaps he already had started that trek into obscurity. I had to look on IMDb to see what his latest credits were. I was shocked to see he was in three films currently in post-production, two slated for release this winter. I admit, I’m not some super fan closely watching for his latest movie premiere, but I was genuinely surprised to see Williams was still so active in his craft.
But back to my point: we took him for granted. How could someone so effervescently and exuberantly comedic take his own life?
Maybe I should stop dancing around the fluffy prose: Robin Williams committed suicide.
Yes, that’s ugly and harsh and uncomfortable to say, but that’s a fact. And it’s a fact that suicide in and of itself is harsh, ugly, and uncomfortable. Suicide is something that the public associates with the overly-emotional, the dark, the broken, the people beyond mental repair, a terminal affliction of the hopelessly artistic.
Robin Williams was hardly the public’s “vision” of someone prone to suicide.
But depression is a tricky bitch like that, a noxious unseen gas that seeps into one’s brain bringing to life mold spores of doubt, anxiety, and hopelessness.
If you’ve ever tried to scrub mold out of your bathtub, you know how difficult it can be. Now imagine trying to scrub depression from the chemical crevices and neurons of your own brain. It is a battle hard-fought, seldom won and victory is a loosely-defined term as nebulous as merely “getting by” each day.
Depression and suicide are more common that we realize, swept under rugs of “just having a bad week” and “accident” more than we care to admit.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that in 2010, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for Americans. (Data is not yet available beyond 2010). According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, depression affects as many as 6.7% of adults in the United States. What’s even more alarming is that the NIMH also reports that 3.3% of teens aged 13 to 18 years old have experienced “a seriously debilitating depressive disorder.”
We take those teens for granted, too.
“It’s just high school drama. Get over it. Grow a pair. Deal with it. Chill out. You’re just doing this for attention.”
We marginalize those who face critical risk factors for depression – “oh it’s just the baby blues, you just need more sleep” – and are stunned when the people we’d least expect are suddenly gone too soon: Chris Benoit, Kurt Cobain, Lee Thomspon Young, Alexander McQueen, Gia Allemand.
We take for granted those who “shouldn’t” be depressed and we marginalize the people who are at depression’s greatest risk. And all the while we try to walk and talk around the big white elephant in the room because hey – it’s no big deal. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.
You hear the phrase “suffering in silence” a lot when you hear people talk about depression. I can tell you, from personal experience: it simmers. We forget we left it on the stove until it boils over or the pot burns up. We step out of the kitchen because hey – it’s no big deal. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
Robin Williams struggled with drugs and alcohol in his lifetime. News reports have even said that he went back into rehab just this past month. Sometimes it’s so much easier to bathe in numbness than to feel agonizing sadness day in and day out.
I can tell you from personal experience that depression can be a sadness that cripples your spirit and slaughters your ability to function and, after a certain point – suicide seems downright humane.
But he was getting help! He was doing what he was supposed to do!
And yet – depression is a tricky bitch like that.
Robin Williams made the news because he was famous, because it was a suicide completed.
There is no centralized national data kept on intentional suicide attempts. The CDC does gather hospital data on non-fatal injuries as the result of self-harming behavior, but the data is reported in such a way that there’s no way to distinguish between intentional and unintentional self-harm injuries. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention further reports that, according to surveys, as many as one million people self-harm each year.
There are a million people who don’t make the news – who won’t make the news – because they merely made an attempt on their own lives. They’re not famous. They didn’t go through with it.
And yet, they suffer in silence.
And we take every single one of them for granted.
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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
Talk. Get help. Help a friend. Don’t take for granted the opportunity to prevent something you can never take back.