Writing

No Laughing Matter: Robin Williams, Mental Illness, and Suicide

On Thursday, April 14, 2014, it was made public that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and was in the early stages at the time of his death. Later that day, an acquaintance of mine stated that he was glad that Williams died when he did because he wanted to remember the actor as he was in his peak rather than watch him waste away as the disease progressed until he died due to the disease (which according to him, would be between 5 to 8 years for older people like Williams). I was taken aback by the statement; it seemed to imply that Williams made the best option to kill himself off as if to say to everyone “I give you the gift of not having to see me suffer in my last years of my life.” 

Robin Williams suffered from severe depression. While I don’t doubt that receiving the prognosis of Parkinson’s didn’t help matters in any way, Williams had struggled with severe clinical depression for many, many years. And while he sought help for it on many occasions, he could no longer fight off the suicidal thoughts that plagued him. 

Depression is a complicated mental disease. Unless they’ve suffered through it themselves, people have no idea what it’s like to fight off the darkness and not give into to suicidal tendencies. It’s never okay for people to preach that suicide is never an option and that if a person is considering suicide, then they’re only taking the easy way out and that they just need to work through the “blues” and bad days and they’ll make it to the other side. To these people, I want to say that I hope they never have to go through severe depression. I hope they never have to watch someone they love fight through severe depression and watch helplessly as they try time after time to get help only to have the sinking realization that the medical help they’re seeking isn’t working. Sometimes, even with the best mental help available, people still commit suicide. It’s like cancer, amputations, or other forms of diseases and surgeries: even with the best doctors, medicines, and treatments, people still die.

But neither is it okay to commit suicide and it’s not okay for people to say “Oh, well, you know, Robin Williams was going to go through the next several years suffering through the effects of Parkinson’s, so it’s okay for him to commit suicide at his career peak so the rest of us don’t have to watch him suffer.” That too, is selfish. It’s like me committing suicide because I’m happy and in the peak of my life and nobody needs to see me suffer the potential bad misgivings that might happen. Robin Williams still needed to strive for help until his suicidal moods passed, he didn’t need to commit suicide. There were people who loved him and wanted to help him (as far as I know). And I’m sure there’s medicine and treatments to keep him comfortable for his Parkinson’s, to keep him positive.

To have someone say he’s glad that Robin Williams killed himself when he did is shallow, flippant and selfish. Nobody should be glad at somebody’s death, no matter how well loved or hated or even sick. We as a society need to work together, to see the signs of depression and help the person suffering through it. We need our doctor’s to continue researching for cures and treatments that will help alleviate the pain without taking away their humanity. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to see another prolific actor, creative, or anybody else die needlessly because they didn’t have the help. But those are just my views. What are yours?

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