The news of Robin Williams’ death spread quickly across the nation and throughout the rest of the world. People were shocked, saddened, grief-stricken as they learned that a man who had made them laugh, cry, think, and laugh again had passed away at what is a relatively young age. Then came word that his was not merely a death but a suicide. Another shockwave. Another collective gasp. Another shared feeling amongst strangers of bewilderment, a lack of understanding, questions that can never be answered, and, finally – simply – profound sadness.
I’ve heard many reactions to Robin Williams’ suicide. Speculation that his was an inadequate relationship with God. Confusion about how he could be depressed when he was rich, famous, and seemed so happy. Mostly, there seems to be a deep, empathic connection from those who have suffered from depression or felt that suicidal despair of “It’s never going to get better.” There’s been an urgency to speak out on his behalf about the dangers of untreated depression. Pleas for understanding because this isn’t a solitary battle…or it shouldn’t be.
For those struggling to understand his suicide, you aren’t alone. It’s difficult to reconcile the smiling, laughing person presented to the world with who we’re now told was the real person. It’s difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that someone could so brilliantly use humor as a defense against his inner struggles. It’s hard to know that he really was always playing a role for our benefit, even if it was to his own detriment. But that’s the reality of the situation, and it’s causing some cognitive dissonance on a national scale.
Social media has become ground zero for a depression awareness movement, with advocates posting wise quotes along with the toll-free number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). As a woman in midlife, I’ve known my share of people who have committed suicide. As a resident of the South, I’m used to the religious rhetoric that follows. However, this has been different, for the most part. In what I’m left to assume was unintentional, Robin Williams has sparked an awareness of the necessity for mental health treatment. Hopefully, this will save someone’s life, even if his could not be saved.