I don't make it a habit to comment on mental health issues of people I don't know, and I didn't know Robin Williams personally. As professional working in this area, I respect the limitations of not truly understanding someone who I only see from a distance. However, I am making an exception in this case for two reasons:
1. As a admirer of Robin Williams, I have been deeply saddened by his suicide and the loss that I feel for someone who genuinely contributed to my life.
2. I hope that by speaking out about these issues as a mental health professional there is the potential in this tragedy to help other people suffering from depression.
Robin Williams has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Somewhat ironically, my first memory of him was as a character on the TV show Happy Days. As a boy, I owned the suspenders that he made popular on the show Mork and Mindy. In my teens I admired him as the nonconformist teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society who encouraged us to "seize the day." Since becoming an adult and therapist, I have identified with Williams' Oscar-winning role as Sean McGuire in Good Will Hunting. And now, I am trying to make sense of the fact that I must now write about Robin Williams using the past tense.
I am a clinical psychologist working in New York City. Over the years, I have worked with many people in creative fields, including several who have made suicide attempts. Even though there are several known risk factors for suicide attempts, I can say from experience that suicide attempts can come also seemingly out of nowhere. When people are depressed, under significant stress, and using mind-altering drugs (prescription or non-prescription) things can get very dangerous very quickly.
I am certain that this is a significant loss for people who knew Williams personally, casually, and for those of us who were entertained by him from afar. Perhaps his suicide can serve as a wake-up call for everyone out there who is suffering from mental illness and is not getting much needed help. If you or someone you know is suffering with depression, and especially if you or they are prone to using alcohol, drugs, and have a history of impulsive behavior, don't be fooled into thinking that you can always control yourself in your current state of mind. All it takes is a few moments to end your life, or sadly alter it forever. One man who I worked with when he was in his 50s had a momentary lapse of reason in his teens, and he attempted suicide by jumping off the top deck of a boat. Instead of ending his life, this man suffered severe damage to his spinal cord and has spent the rest of his life a person with quadriplegia.
What this means for you: If you or someone you know is depressed or suicidal, please don't keep it to yourself. There are legions or resources available to you whoever you are and wherever you are. Don't wait to tell someone. As sad as it is that we have lost Robin Williams, if his death can prevent further suicides, perhaps Williams's legacy and contribution to the common good does not have to end with his untimely passing.
If, or someone you know is in need of help here are some resources to consider:
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.