Thursday, August 14, 2014

On the Suicide of Robin Williams

For some reason people seem surprised that Robin Williams committed suicide. If you had asked me a month ago to pick the celebrity most likely to kill himself, he would have topped my list. The last time I saw him on a talk show--several years back--it struck me just how desperately he wanted people to like him. (Which, in turn, made me desperately not like him.) The man was not psychologically self-sufficient.

I did not like him as an actor. He ruined or threatened to ruin any movie he was in, as fas as I'm concerned. The movies where he played a starring role are intolerable to me, with the lone exception being Aladdin. It's been my impression that he seriously fell out of favor with the public as well, but of course with his death everyone likes him again.

But suicide is an important topic to me. My brother killed himself. So despite the fact I rarely comment about celebrities here, I want to talk about it.

This is a blessing and a curse. Apparently a celebrity suicide often triggers a rash of suicides, and that's sad. At the same time, it's an opportunity to raise awareness. With other causes, awareness is a goal primarily because it raises money. With suicide, awareness is the most important goal. Not because people need to realize how selfish it is. That's not exactly accurate, because it's the result of powerful forces acting to overpower rational thought. Martin Luther said, "I don't have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil." but because they need to realize they need to get help. And it's OK to ask for help.

So please, if you're depressed, you need to admit it to yourself, and get help. If anyone suggests they might be thinking about it, please be open, understanding, and encourage them to find help.


  1. An important post, but I have one major quibble with what you've written: "With suicide, awareness is the most important goal. Not because people need to realize how selfish it is. That's not exactly accurate..." I think we actually agree, and I very may well be reacting to a turn of phrase you didn't intend, but I would argue that vehemently bringing up the idea of selfishness when it comes to mental illness is not accurate in any way, shape, or form. It's a way of thinking that just reinforces the idea that mental illness isn't quite a "real" illness, and people are somehow morally deficient, cowardly, or weak when they succumb to it. The stigma, and the idea of selfishness playing in to it, needs to be removed from the conversation. I won't begrudge anyone's emotional reaction to losing someone they love to suicide--we all have thoughts in a moment of duress that don't reflect our best selves. I'm strongly anti-death penalty, but when family members want revenge for a hideous crime, I can't pretend I don't understand where they're coming from. But until we, as a society, full recognize mental illness as a disease that can actually kill someone without passing judgment, the stigma will continue, and that in and of itself exacerbates the problems of those suffering from it. It's like calling someone who dies from cancer selfish for not fighting hard enough or some such nonsense.

    1. Thanks for your input. If I'm being truly honest here, I don't fully understand the mechanism behind suicidal thoughts. I don't want to say selfishness plays no role--it could be that the disease overpowers a person in part through impacting selfishness. I don't know that. What I do know, and where we can agree, is that thinking of it in terms of selfishness is not useful for any purpose, because that's not a primary factor (if it is a factor at all)