Suicide, Robin Williams, and National Suicide Prevention Week
written by Teresa M.I. Schaefer, PhD*
Claiming approximately one million lives worldwide each year, suicide is reported by the American Association of Suicidology as an international problem and a major public health concern. Suicide affects individuals of all ages, genders, races and religions with an estimated 4.8 million American survivors of suicide of a friend, family member, or loved one (AAS, 2014)*.
Recently, the American community and world reacted to the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. Williams, it was reported, died of asphyxiation as a result of suicide.
Williams was a comedic genius. With 100+ acting credits spanning almost four decades, Williams made us laugh, belly-ache laugh, laugh until we cried. We loved watching him and what he provided for us in terms of entertainment and lifting up our spirits.
His death, as is true of death in general, resulted in a multitude of reactions: shock, disbelief, despair, anger, sadness, helplessness, fear. Our reactions to death can be exaggerated and changeable. Death by suicide will often result in even greater complexity of both cognitive and emotional reactions. Each one of us will react in a manner that is unique to our selves and will reflect our relationship to the deceased, our experiences with suicide, our losses due to death, and our current emotional wellness. As we listened to media, live, written, and social, and talked amongst ourselves, we became aware of the vast array of reactions and their likeness or dissimilarity from our own personal reaction.
Followers of Williams ‘knew’ him. We knew him as funny: Nanu Nanu funny, Mrs. Doubtfire funny, Patch Adams funny, and the list goes on. He appeared the embodiment of embracing life. So when he took his own we were shocked, saddened, and even angry. The juxtaposition of embracing life and suicide was jarring. We asked why?
It was reported that there was a history of depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and Parkinson’s. Each is a well recognized disease affecting many in our society. Left untreated these diseases can be debilitating. None are considered a direct cause of suicide for all persons but, for any one person, may be associated with greater risk of suicidal ideas or even suicide itself.
In the United States, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death among adults and the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds. And while the elderly make up 13.3% of the population, they comprise 16.0% of all suicides (AAS, 2014)*.
Suicide is a public health problem with serious consequences requiring attention, intervention, and prevention. Familiarizing yourself with what to look for may help you in being part of this prevention effort.
A suicidal person may:
• Talk about suicide, death, and/or no reason to live
• Be preoccupied with death and dying
• Withdraw from friends and/or social activities
• Have a recent severe loss (especially relationship loss) or threat of significant loss
• Lose interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
• Prepare for death by making out a will (unexpectedly) and final arrangements
• Give away possessions
• Have attempted suicide before
• Take unnecessary risks; be reckless, and/or impulsive
• Lose interest in their personal appearance
• Increase their use of alcohol or drugs
• Express a sense of hopelessness
• Be faced with a situation of humiliation or failure
• Have a history of violence or hostility
• Have been unwilling to “connect” with potential helpers (AAS, 2014)*
If you witness any or a collection of the above in another person, do not hesitate in contacting a mental health professional, primary care physician, suicide hotline (always listed in the front of telephone books), calling 911, or connecting with any one of the resources listed below.
If you are personally experiencing any of the above or have begun to or created a plan to kill yourself, please reach out to someone who can help. Your life is worth it!
EASTERN SHORE CRISIS RESPONSE
Sante Group Hotline 1-888-407-8018
24-hour national crisis intervention hotline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-422-0009 or 410-749-HELP
LIFE CRISIS CENTER HOTLINE Provides counseling for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, suicide prevention, support groups, emergency shelter, shelter referral, medical care, and assistance with the process of prosecution.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF SUICIDOLOGY Resource Links
*The author wishes to acknowledge the American Association of Suicidology in their sponsorship of National Suicide Prevention Week and the resources proffered to professionals such as herself in helping to promote the dissemination of information in suicide prevention. The above referenced statistics and list of items regarding what a suicidal person may do were drawn liberally from these materials.