Our hearts are broken. This funny, kind and gentle man is gone. He, like the 30,000 other souls that commit suicide each year in this country, was struck down by depression.
Many people find it incomprehensible that someone so talented, beloved, good and wealthy could take his own life. One commenter from Fox, Sheppard Smith, (not surprising, I guess) called him a “coward.” What a cowardly thing to say from a man who has, most likely, never suffered from the grind of depression as Robin did. However, this commenter isn’t alone in his ignorance. One poll found that over forty percent of all Americans viewed depression as “a lack of willpower.”
Rather than cowardly, I believe Robin’s well-documented life-long battle with major depression and addiction was heroic. As someone who had lived in the trenches of major depression over the years and known hundreds of fellow soldiers like Robin, I feel that people who struggle with depression are my heroes.
Ironically, Christopher Reeve, Robin’s long-time friend who studied acting and roomed with him at Julliard, defined what a hero is:
“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Given his brilliance, fame and wealth, one could say that Robin was anything but “ordinary.” Yet, he was a flesh-and-blood human being, just like you and I, who suffered tremendously. And he, tragically, decided he just couldn’t take it anymore.
Until he committed suicide, he had somehow found the strength to persevere over the course of his life despite his poor mental health. I’m sure that there was many times that such perseverance involved pushing through the pain of depression on a daily if not moment-to-moment basis. The pain, known all too well by sufferers, must have been so dreadful that he was holding on by his fingertips.
A loss of hope was at the bottom of Robin’s decision to end his life, a loss that no amount of love, support and guidance could assuage.
As Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote in Prozac Nation:
That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.
Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor at Georgetown University, herself a sufferer from depression, had this to say about suicide in her seminal book on the subject, Night Falls Fast:
When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.
Rest in Peace, Robin. Thank you for all the gifts you freely gave to the world. Your suffering is over.
15 thoughts on “The Death of Robin Williams, Depression and Suicide”
This is a beautiful post. Thank you for writing and sharing it.
Yes, Dan. This perspective needs to be heard . In an interview with Terry Gross, aired yesterday, Robin Williams said, “Life isn’t for everybody.”
Funny and sad… and true.
I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since i was a child and I’m 61 now.the doctors had no idea what was wrong with me so i wasn’t properly diagnosed until i was 24! A very long suffering haul to say the least. I’ve been hospitalized four times.the most recent 2 were in the last nine months. I’m a christian and i thank God every day for the husband he sent me 18 years ago. It never ceases to amaze me how in this day and age how misunderstood mental illness is. It’s just a crime. More education and publicity is gravely needed. I pray for all the sufferers out there and their families.
Thanks so much for sharing, Faith. Dan
Aren’t there drugs that can help? I know Rod Steiger, the actor, took them even though he regarded them as just throwing “oil on water.” But that was ten years ago. Haven’t drug companies gotten any further in treating this? Seems the evidence is that it’s chemical rather than psychological, assuming the two can be distinguished.
Just came to this site from Chaz’ Robin Williams post on the Daily Banter, referred by your comment. You must know the answer to this: are there no effective medications to fight depression? I remember from several years ago that Rod Steiger said he took medicine, even though he disparaged its effectiveness. Maybe improvements were made since then, research on the condition (disease?) of depression that led to more effective pharmacology. As you know this condition affects hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and there should be an interest in fighting it, even if an ultimate cure is too much to expect.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Curt. There are medications, but their efficacy is mixed. They aren’t a cure. But, for many, are only part of the cure. Hopefully, with more research, they will soon be able to target those areas of the brain implicated in depression. Dan
People that have depression can feel better and get back to their normal lives within a few months if they receive the right treatments. The majority of sufferers start feeling better within a matter of weeks.
Most often, treatment for depression can be done on an outpatient basis. Treatment can include a combination of medications and therapy or counseling.
For the commenter named “Depression Definition,” you are putting a wholly unrealistic gloss on the efficacy of treatment. Listen to the others posting here who, like me, have lived with depression for many, many decades. Sure, drugs can sometimes help for some people in the short-term, and did for me, initially. But the drugs often become less effective over time, and so one has to tinker and experiment with drugs continuously. To say that “the majority of sufferers start feeling better in a matter of weeks,” is a statement that I find highly suspect. Moreover, it implies that once a sufferer improves from drugs, the drugs have a permanent, lasting effect. They don’t. This has been true for several close loved ones in my life, and me, so I know what I’m talking about. Sometimes a person can get better in the short-term, but this is a long-term illness that is difficult to manage, not an easily treated illness in which treatment can quickly and easily cure “the majority” of people. As Dan said in a post, drugs help, but they are far from a cure-all.
Beth, I’m with you on everything you said. Drugs have alternating side effects for a variety of peple, and doctors are incapable of properly discerning how effective any drug might potentially be with that persons’ individual body chemistry. Meaning it’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall; sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t take anything for my depression, I manage it the best I can through exercise, diet, and working on being positive. But that fear is always there; that an event will occur and the hand of depression is going to close on my throat again. Because when it does, it takes months to dig myself back out. It is a long term illness. It is stigmatized. And people who claim they understand depression and have empathy are sometimes the first to turn their backs once the hand starts closing in. There is no cure-all.
I recommend an article by Dick Cavett in TIME magazine this month.
He not only knew Williams and many others in show biz with the condition, he’s a sufferer himself. The takeaway for me was this:
‘This will not brighten the picture: I said to a brilliant psychopharmacologist recently that there must be a lot of progress and new medications since I suffered depression back in the ’70s. The answer: “No, we’re really not making much progress I’m afraid.”’
There should be an “ice bucket challenge” for this cause, the treatment of this widespread affliction.
Well said, Curt!!
Depression sometimes can be caused challenging life events, such as the loss of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, the failure to reach some important life goal or any other event that a person sees as bad or terribly upsetting. Situational depression, for instance, commonly occurs after a trauma like a serious car accident or a house fire.
Great post, Thank you for writing on this matter. Depression can be such a horrible illness. I have had anxiety issues from a young age its lovely to read other peoples experiences.
Being a man in my 50’s, I can relate to the kind of depression he felt. I was hit with a midlife divorce which was quickly followed by job loss due to my depressed state. It seemed none of the drugs worked, wellbutrin probably did the best. With the help of my support group I was able to survive. We should all remember that it’s not what you have, but what you’ve last that hurts. So even the rich feel loss, even if it’s only the loss of ones self.