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Robin Williams - lifting the taboo of suicide

Updated on July 24, 2016

Robin Williams - lifting the taboo of suicide

Recently Robin Williams's birthday came and went and was remembered across social media, he was an actor and comedian loved around the world for his films and stand up comedy. I, like many others I guess, watched him in awe sometimes admiring how one man could play so many different characters so well, I remember him right back as an alien in Mork and Mindy, in the real life story of Patch Adams who ironically suffered depression, the wonderful Mrs Doubtfire and so so many inbetween and afterwards. I guess it was his talent at playing so many characters that aided in him using the mask of comedy to cover the depression he undoubtedly suffered to ultimately and sadly take his own life, in doing so he shocked and saddened thousands of fans and lifted, however briefly, the taboo on suicide. After all Robin Williams was a comedian, he was wealthy, married with children, a career he loved whatever did he have to be suicidal about?

And therein lies the kicker with mental health issues, depression and suicidal thoughts, they do not always happen to those worst off in the world, they do not always discriminate by race, demographics, gender, sexual orientation, financial security, religion or culture (although these are huge influences in many cases, my point is they are not exclusive) they happen to our race, the human race, the one with a brain that computes situations and fears, worries and feelings, negativities and rejections, abandonment and failure, all at an often overly elevated and unrealistic rate until the sufferer considers the permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem. Now in Robin Williams case it was not ‘just’ depression, Robin also suffered a rare brain disease called Lewy body dementia, which can cause problems and symptoms similar to those found in people with Parkinson’s disease; sleep disorders; anxiety; interruptions in the ability to pay attention; and loss of memory, and can also fuel depression.

However the shock did allow people to openly discuss depression and talk about suicide, something that shouldn’t be hidden or something to be ashamed of. If the stigma is fully lifted more people could get help and live the full and happier lives everyone is entitled to. According the Samaritans 2016 report there were 6,581 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland in 2014, that’s 6,581 lives cut short. Of those 6,122 were registered in the UK, equating to a suicide rate of 10.8 per 100,000 people (16.8 per 100,000 for men and 5.2 per 100,000 for women). This also demonstrates that the rate is higher for men. There could arguably be many reasons for this but one of the main ones that has come out of research over the years when I was teaching is it has always been harder for men to admit to having mental health problems and/or depression than women, often as they are seen as having to be ‘manly’ and ‘strong’ and no weaknesses. In reality from talking to my friends, students, and from readings, women often like to see the softer side of men and actually don’t like all that macho bravado they feel they need to show off, so I think maybe that’s best left to the peacocks of the world, guys and gals are both human, both have emotions, both have feelings, both have insecurities, both have fears and hopes, both have an enormous capacity to love, both will be hurt, both will laugh and cry, both will be worried and excited, in essence both will be human beings and have a right to be treated as such regardless of gender as mental health does not discriminate, why should we?

It only takes a few of us to speak up and speak out for mental health awareness for it to have a ripple effect and for others to join in and hopefully reach those who need it most. All too often people sit back and think “what difference can I make in a world this size” well you’d be surprised, it has to start somewhere, you may help one person and change get their day, they could do the same and change someone’s week and so on. As Robin Williams said “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”


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    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 17 months ago from Deep South, USA

      It is to be hoped that all countries will focus more on the need for mental health services, awareness, and completely eradicating the stigma still felt by many who won't seek help for fear of appearing "weak." Thanks for contributing to this badly needed dialogue, Jo.


    • Jotan1970 profile image

      Jo Jones 18 months ago from Norfolk, England

      Hi Jaye,

      No need to apologise for having a completely justified rant. Sadly that is an all too common opinion on suicide and comes perhaps not from a lack of compassion so much as a lack of knowledge and understanding, although anyone entering into the medical profession in any form knows to treat mind and body as one. Another all too common comment she made was having an understanding of depression due to having been down at times and getting over it. There is a huge difference between feeling low and feelings (temporary) of depression and actually being depressed, it comes down to acute or chronic and the affects on ones life and functioning, amongst other things.

      There is sadly here in the UK horrendous cuts to mental health services with many being cut completely and the ones left having waiting lists of up to a year, so I'm pleased to hear Prince Harry will be supporting this area. In my business I see people who have suffered for a long time but struggled to talk about it, by more people speaking out publicly and challenging stereotypical views such as the one you saw on Facebook hopefully more people will feel able to get help before getting to the point where they feel suicide is the only option.

      Thank you for your comment Jaye.


    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 18 months ago from Deep South, USA

      I read today that British Prince Harry is co-sponsoring a mental health initiative that will be his focus for the next year, noting that he was hurting after the tragic death of his mother but only started talking about it three years ago.

      You're right, Jo, that depression (and suicide) know no societal boundaries. Something I'd like to add is that I recently read a comment on Facebook by an EMT and soon-to-be nursing student that angered me so much I came within an inch of telling her she was in the wrong field and should change immediately since all healthcare professionals should "first, do no harm."

      Her comment that infuriated me was that anyone who commits suicide is a "coward" and a "quitter," a theory that has long been debunked in the field of psychology. She apparently considered herself an expert on depression because she's been "down" at times, but got over it.

      Such attitudes do more harm to people suffering from clinical depression or a combination of illnesses (such as Robin Williams suffered) that obliterate rational thinking and may lead to suicide. Rather than spouting opinions that may prove harmful or even fatal to someone, anyone who wants to make a difference should work toward a greater awareness of the many, many causes. (Sorry my comment turned into a rant, but I needed to write it.)