Like many, we here at Abnormal Use were saddened to learn of the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The tragic suicide of Williams provides us an opportunity to discuss mental illness, especially clinical depression. Fifteen percent of those suffering from clinical depression commit suicide. Substance abusers are 10 times as likely to commit suicide than the general population. Women attempt suicide at least two times more often than men, but men are “successful” four times more than women. Although most people suffering from depression are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. These are very troubling statistics, and we must be aware of them. Just as important: we must learn how to distinguish depression and ordinary sadness, as they are not the same. Treating them as such is dangerous.
While some suicides occur without any outward warning, most do not. Thus, we can prevent suicides by learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone at risk, taking those signs seriously, and knowing how to respond to them. What are those signs? Serious depression (low mood, pessimism, hopelessness, desperation, anxiety, inner tension, withdrawal, sleep problems), increased drug or alcohol use, recent impulsiveness, taking unnecessary risks, threatening suicide, making a plan (sudden giving away of possessions, purchase of firearm), and unexpected rage or anger. What to do if you recognize these symptoms in someone or fear someone you know may take his or her life? Take it seriously. Seek professional help. A person contemplating suicide may not believe her or she can be helped. You may have to do more—go with them to the ER or a doctor. If the person is an attorney, call your state bar’s lawyer assistance program. Call your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Call the local office of Mental Health America or National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).
The national suicide prevention number is 800-273-TALK.
Finally, here is a link to a good article on this subject. Yes, Williams made a choice to end his life. But it was a choice made out desperation and pain, symptoms we must learn to recognize to prevent suicide in the future.