Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression, Suicide, and Robin Williams

I am a psychiatrist.  For many years now, most every time I get a phone call from work, it is because someone has threatened or attempted to commit suicide.

I have talked with thousands of people who have considered it, hundreds who have attempted it, and sadly, a few who have completed it.

I loved watching the actor Robin Williams. I loved him as the Genie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and as Mr. Keating in his movie about suicide - Dead Poet's Society.

But I know nothing more of Robin Williams than anyone else who saw his movies.  He was never my patient, my friend, or even an acquaintance, so I can't really say anything about him, his depression, or his suicide.

I can't say like some "you're free" and I can't say like others "you're selfish."

I can't say it was a disease, and I can't say it was a decision.

I don't know. 

What I can say is: suicide is not usually selfish, or really a decision at all, it's simply the next step.  When depression gets so immensely overwhelming, suicide is, in the mind, perfectly logical.
Why hurt anymore, why ache, why suffer?  Why not just let it all go?

Of course when the depression abates, and memory and reason return, people can list thousands of reasons they are glad they are alive.  But when the night is darkest, none of those things seem to matter.

We, as a society, do carry some of the blame for suicide.  We have at times made it acceptable, laudable, and we have praised and glorified those who died.  We feel we need to make the person a saint, a victim, and not give them any responsibility for the suicide.

I get it, why make things worse?  Why say anything bad about someone who suffered so tremendously that they killed themselves?

Because once they are gone, then the conversations and media coverage aren't for them, they are for us.  What is left behind is for those watching.

I assume at this time that Robin Williams family and friends are suffering. I assume many others with depression are seeing all this attention, and wondering if they would get this much attention if they killed themselves.  Or would they simply be forgotten?

Many depressed people just saw the Motion Picture Association tell Robin Williams: "You're Free"
It is a beautiful thought, but does it mean all other depressed people can be free too?

I assume tragedies like this make some people more suicidal, and others less.  Some see what happened, how terrible and tragic and final and irreversible it was, and it wakes them up. It gives them a moment of clarity. Others see it as an example, freedom from pain.

What do I think?

I think this should wake ALL of us up.  This is not a time for blame and shame.  It is a time for compassion.  We should take this moment to weep for Williams and his family.  More importantly we should take this moment to talk to our loved ones - to have the difficult conversations we've always been meaning to have with those we care most about.


GrannyLorée said...

Matt, you are FAR from a "Simple Citizen". You are awesome and amazing. I appreciate your thoughts as an MD and as a 'regular guy', too. Thanks!

Dinah said...

Nice post.