Robin Williams Suicide

It’s taken me a few weeks to update our website in light of the passing of Robin Williams. There have been many reasons for this. Talking about a suicide, especially the suicide of someone who touched everyone’s hearts in one way or another, is very sensitive. I’ve read many different articles since his passing, many written with compassion and empathy, many others with scarring words and stigma.  

As a 90’s baby, I grew up with Robin Williams in many ways. He was my genie, my Mrs. Doubtfire, my Alan Parish. He captivated my imagination and made me laugh like few other comedians could do. I’ve had Dead Poets Society on my to-watch list for a few years now, but I feel I can already resonate with O Captain, My Captain.

There is a fine line here, though, and finding that balance is proving itself to be a daunting task, even for those of us in the mental health field. On one hand, it’s been years since mental health and suicide were this widely covered in the news. With this much coverage, people who are hurting without a doubt found access to phone numbers or local resources where they could get help. The reality that mental illness does not discriminate was highlighted over and over again. We can say with 100% confidence that Robin Williams was NOT lazy, selfish, weak, or crazy. So that MUST mean that other people who live with mental illness are also not lazy, selfish, weak, or crazy. This is stigma-busting stuff; information that professionals have been trying to get out there for years. With improved education comes improved services and access to those services.

On the other hand, I fear that we are glamorizing and immortalizing Robin Williams. He was a fantastic man, and there are no objections to that fact. In his life, he did amazing things. He cared about people. That is the best legacy to leave behind; to have people say without a shred of doubt that he cared about people. But I fear that Robin is going to be the new face of suicide. I fear we’re going to start remembering him for how he died instead of how he lived. This would be dishonorable to his memory and ignorant of the true issue that needs to be highlighted.

Two articles really captivated me since Robin’s passing. They are contradictory, and yet there is a middle ground between the two that I think is worth noting. The first stated that Robin Williams did not die of a disease, but of a choice. The main point in this article states that suicide is a choice. Suicide did not come upon him like a heart attack. Suicide did not happen to him. He made the choice to take his life. As frank and cold as that is, it is true. No one forced him to make a suicide attempt. Similarly, no one can take blame for his attempt. It was his choice alone.

However, that frank article fails to understand the depths of depression. Can we really expect someone to be able to face a choice like whether or not to make a suicide attempt and make the correct decision when their ability to think and reason has been compromised by mental illness? Suicide is not a black and white choice when someone is in that deep, dark pit of despair. To a healthy person like you or me, the choice to live or die seems like an easy one. But from someone who has felt the hopelessness, worthlessness, the burden of existence that comes with the diagnosis of depression, let me tell you: the choice is not so easy.

The second article is the exact opposite. It states that Robin Williams did not die of suicide, but rather he died from depression. The way this author explains why Robin died of depression and not suicide is so well worded that I’ve decided to just copy and paste it here:

“When people die from cancer, their cause of death can be various horrible things – seizure, stroke, pneumonia – and when someone dies after battling cancer, and people ask “How did they die?”, you never hear anyone say “pulmonary embolism”, the answer is always “cancer”. A Pulmonary Embolism can be the final cause of death with some cancers, but when a friend of mine died from cancer, he died from cancer. That was it. And when I asked my wife what Robin Williams died from, she, very wisely, replied “Depression””

So what am I getting at here? I mentioned that there is a middle ground between these two contradictory articles. There are some truths here that are worth noting. Namely:

  1. Suicide is a choice. Thus, if you are thinking about suicide, take comfort in the fact that you can choose to get help, and you can choose to live.
  2. It is not a black and white choice. For someone so close to that edge, there is a storm of emotions and thoughts trying to push that person over. In many ways, the choice to live can be the harder choice to make.
  3. We need to continue talking about mental health so that we can reach the millions of people who struggle every day. Robin Williams was one of many individuals who die by suicide every year. We need to fight for the “common man” just as fervently as we fight for our celebrities.
  4. There is help. 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of death. Treatment is available, and treatment works.
  5. Let’s continue to remember Robin Williams for what he did in life, not how he died. But let’s also continue the discussion surrounding mental health and suicide.

 

As always, if you’re hurting, please reach out:

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE

Chat online at www.ImAlive.org or www.CrisisChat.org

Text “LISTEN” to 741-741

 

 

 

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Volunteering with Please Live

Oops, it looks like I missed a month of blog posting! But for good reason, I promise!

July was hectic for me, both in my personal life and in the life of Please Live. The highlight of the month was heading out to Ft. Collins, Colorado to host two suicide prevention workshops at the Church of the Brethren’s National Youth Conference. One workshop was targeted towards staff, and another was targeted towards teens. I received a great response from both workshops, many local pastors from Pennsylvania promising me they’d be in touch to bring Please Live to their congregations.

Here’s some feedback we received from both workshops:

“Very energetic leader and very informative. Didn’t realize how many teens attempt suicide. The numbers are staggering.”

“This workshop really meant a lot to me. I have dealt with depression and anxiety and suicidal ideation for years. I’ve never had someone explain the terrible things I feel in such an accurate and yet still lighthearted way.”

“I have had thoughts relating to the ones you talked about, like hoping I won’t wake up or that a car will hit me. I have no interest in attempting suicide. I feel very depressed during the school year but that’s probably due to stress and social interactions (or lack thereof). I’m very glad you led this seminar and I feel a lot more comfortable. […] I will make it out of this labyrinth.”

“FANTASTIC workshop! Thank you so much! I feel ready to help when my friends come to me.”

So, needless to say, July came and went before I even noticed!

Moving on, I wanted to really highlight the benefits of volunteering with Please Live for this month’s blog post. If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re interested in what we do. If the feedback from the National Youth Conference got you excited, then perhaps you’re in the perfect place to volunteer with us and be part of the success of helping teens.

I’d like to say we treat our volunteers well. We make it incredibly easy to interact and stay updated with all news happening within Please Live. We’re also very understanding of personal lives and stress factors. We have volunteers that range from continuous Please Live support to individuals who just help out here and there. Really, we have a place for you regardless of your skill set, time commitment, or even physical location.

At Please Live, we have three separate committees, all which are managed by the Board of Directors. The committees are:

Education: Focuses on our message, our mission/vision, the content of our resources, website, etc. Education is very involved in our event coordination efforts when we schedule a new program.

Fundraising: Focuses on our financial progress, scheduling, analyzing, and implementation of fundraising events, and grant research and application.

Marketing/Design: Focuses on media aspects of Please Live (such as graphic design, web design, videography). Also connects with local news sources, analyzes social media, and website hits.

90% of our volunteer communication is done via a website called Wiggio, in which information is continuously updated and distributed so that volunteers are always in-the-know. As volunteer opportunities come and go, individuals may jump in and add their two-cents wherever they feel comfortable.

As Please Live continues to grow, we are finding ourselves in need of more and more dependable and motivated people. We’re also actively looking towards the future of Please Live, meaning, we’re eager to see younger generations popping up behind us. You may be aware that we have a fairly young board of directors. All but one of our directors is still in their 20’s – that being said, we also are looking for experienced volunteers who have the insight that we don’t have. Basically what we’re saying is you’re never too young or too old to make an impact with Please Live.

So why volunteer at all? Well, there are so many benefits, it’s hard to list them all here. Volunteering helps you connect with others, meet new friends, and work valuable inter-personal skills. Volunteering increases self confidence, decreases depression and anxiety, can advance your career, makes you happier, and promotes longer life!

So you’re sold on volunteering, but why volunteer with Please Live? Again, I’d like to say we treat our volunteers pretty well. It’s a low-stress environment that keeps communication channels open and clear so there’s little confusion about what needs done. Additionally, you can sleep sound at night knowing that your input is making a difference in the lives of teens in our community, and may even save a life.

Interested in volunteering with Please Live? Here’s how to move forward:

1. Fill out our Volunteer Assessment Survey. This helps us identify your skills and where you would best fit in our volunteer committees. Filled out forms can be scanned and sent to support@pleaselive.org or mailed to PO Box 1281, Mechanicsburg PA 17055

2. We will review your survey and get back to you within three business days of receiving it. We’ll schedule a time to sit with you to learn more about you and discuss where you best fit in Please Live.

3. We’ll give you access to the volunteer website and you begin officially volunteering!

Thanks for reading and your continued support of Please Live!