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Let's Focus on Hope: Robin Williams, Depression and Suicide

We can speculate, and we can mourn. In fact, it is important to mourn. It is also important to learn -- to learn from this devastation so we can help ourselves and our loved ones.
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Highway sign illustrating the concept of 'Hope is just around the corner,' or 'this way for Hope'
Highway sign illustrating the concept of 'Hope is just around the corner,' or 'this way for Hope'

In the wake Robin Williams' devastating suicide, many are asking, Why? Why would someone do this? How could someone with the ability to make millions laugh not have a glimmer of hope within?

We can speculate, and we can mourn. In fact, it is important to mourn. It is also important to learn -- to learn from this devastation so we can help ourselves and our loved ones.

Suicidal thoughts and actions are perhaps more widespread than you might know. Over 30,000 Americans take their own lives each year. While we tend to think of suicide as an adult issue, research shows that a staggering 1 in 9 children attempt suicide before high school graduation, and 40 percent of those are in grade school. (Journal of Adolescent Health via Family Matters, 2011).

Sadly, media coverage on suicides actually increases the rates of suicides. A phenomenon called Copy Cat Suicide seems to exist where just hearing about a suicide increases the likelihood that someone else will try to take their own life.

What can we do?

Let's focus on preventative measures -- how we can help people NOT get to a state where they view ending their lives as their only option.

Here are five approaches that you can implement to help keep people you know and love living and thriving.

Cultivate Hope: Hopelessness is the biggest predictor of suicide and a key element of over depression, manic depression or substance abuse -- all of which are also risk factors. Hope, or the belief that things can get better, is a very teachable skill. Challenge yourself and others to identify hope even during difficult times.

Address Stress Effectively: Higher levels of stress affect how we view ourselves and the world. Like the blinders on a horse, the higher levels of stress someone experiences, the more narrow of a focus they have. Someone who ends their life can often see that as the ONLY option.

As a society, we do a pretty lousy job at managing stress effectively: over-eating, alcohol and drug abuse, excessive spending, hours in front of screens... these are all attempts at reducing stress to feel better. Unfortunately, they tend to add to stress rather than deter it.

Help Out Others: Much of society has become self-absorbed. I want to help out others but I don't have enough time, money or energy, is something I often hear. When our only focus is ourselves, we miss out on, well, much of reality.

Volunteering to help others helps boost our sense of gratitude for what is going on. We can gain a different perspective on our own lives, as well as on life in general.

The beauty of helping others out is that is does not need to cost any money or copious amounts of time. Try holding the door open for someone, smiling at a stranger, looking the cashier in the eyes and offer a sincere thank you. Easy and powerful.

Stop the Perfectionism: We are facing an epidemic of perfectionism -- an all-or-nothing mentality where my life is perfect or I am a failure. It cultivates a fear of failure that is so strong that it disrupts our lives. Perfectionism keeps us from seeking out the assistance we need when we are feeling down and out.

From access to work 24/7 resulting in sleep deprivation and elevated stress, to focusing on the faults in ourselves or our partners, perfectionism is robbing us of positivity.

The antidote? Be Better Than Perfect -- apply your values and strengths, strive for excellence while learning from the times you don't achieve it, and focus on gratitude over judgment.

Prioritize Meaning Over Money: In our materialistic society, the insatiable quest for money comes as a price: true meaning. Happiness does not come from a million dollars; it comes from purpose in life, a sense of contribution and connection, and feeling fulfilled. Materialism promotes entitlement, which is a surefire way to be miserable. Prioritize in your life, as well as the lives of those around you.

The rates of suicide are disheartening, but we have the power to change that. One of Robin Williams' most iconic roles was as an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey who started each broadcast with a hearty "Gooood Morning Vietnam!" Let's unite over his tragic death and use it as a powerful wakeup call to bring more hope, love and meaning into our lives as individuals and as a society.

Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.