Robin Williams Didn’t Kill Himself

Robin Williams was 63.  He was as successful as anyone could hope to be.  It seems almost beyond reasoning to believe that he could have taken his own life.

In fact,  a friend of mine who suffers from a terminal illness, shared a thought on Facebook.

She said that, sad as she felt for Williams, she couldn’t help but be angry with him.  She had a terminal illness, she was fighting for life every day.  Valiantly.  And here was a man who had everything: fame, fortune, adoring fans.  And he had, just like that, given up the gift he had been given.

Oh, my friend, if only you knew, I thought to myself.  If only you understood.  If only you could grasp it.  It was not him.  It was his illness.

It can be so hard to understand for the mentally healthy.  Just as I cannot possibly comprehend what it means for someone to have AIDS or cancer, I think it can be truly hard for people to wrap their minds around the idea the overwhelming, suffocating nature of severe mental illness.  That someone could feel so depressed, so low, that their perception of reality is so distorted that they feel that lack of life is preferable to life.

It is a sign of our times that we use the words, “Robin Williams killed himself”, in reputable news outlets.  That we mention, offhand, that he was suffering from depression.  That they are only tangentially connected.

 

I remember once driving up a parking garage in the middle of the night in college.  I reached the top floor.  I faced the cable barrier that separated my car from the ground, five stories below.

“I could just end it.  Right now.  It would be over.”

What saved me in that moment was that I had not totally given into my disease yet.  It had not taken me over so deeply that I couldn’t see the folly of such a thought.

But I am aware that if it was deep enough, strong enough, I might not be here today.

Robin Williams did not kill himself.  His disease, whatever it was, killed him.

And I think it is this issue, this misunderstanding, of mental illness that affects our society all too deeply.

I do not blame my friend for her thoughts.  Her struggle is so real, and I cannot possibly understand what she is going through.

But I do feel that her thoughts, and the way the larger world addresses these issues, is an indication that mental health is still vastly misunderstood in our culture.  That it is undervalued, that it is not seen as “real”.

We talk about psychology as a “soft” science.  The stigma around going to therapy or taking medications persists.

It is time we stopped thinking about mental health in this way.  It is time we acknowledged that a disease in the brain is just as physical as a disease in the heart, lungs, or liver.  The fact that it is more complicated, less understood, and only beginning to be studied, does not mean we can ignore this fact.  In truth, it means the exact opposite: that mental health needs to be treated with urgency.  That our society has to start treating its illnesses as every bit as deadly and malicious as other ailments.  That research into these issues needs to be ramped up.

What scares me the most about the death of Robin Williams is that it is clear how woefully ill-equipped the world is to fight mental health.  How anyone, truly anyone, can fall to it, even someone with tons of money for treatment and support from the world.

 

Robin Williams, to me and so many others, has always been this beacon of hope.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar, I did the usual internet search about the illness.  I wanted to learn as much about it as I could.

Anyone with a mental illness has probably run into one of those lists: the “who has your mental illness list”.

Robin Williams was always listed as one of the famous people with bipolar, although he was never officially diagnosed with it.

Robin Williams’s name jumped out at me.  Here was a man who appeared to have conquered his struggles.  He was successful.  He was able to perform all over the world, in beautiful movies, in one-man shows.

For a twenty year old who had just been released from a mental hospital, who had no idea how he was going to get on his feet… this was so beautiful.  This was hope.

Now, his name will represent both hope and warning to me, and to all of us who suffer from mental illness.  A reminder that we need to keep pushing to reduce the stigma around treatment.  A reminder that we need to demand that mental health is treated as seriously as other diseases.  A reminder that, most importantly, we need to focus on making ourselves healthier and healthier.

I am now painfully aware that no matter how much balance I find within myself, that I am still in danger, that I need to be constantly vigilant, and that my struggle could gain strength at any moment.

Until our society aggressively, strongly addresses mental illness, until we move it from a side issue to a real issue, until we give it the same priority as other illnesses… I will still have that fear.  I will still shake my head at what is often a death-by-disease that we call suicide.

And we will all still need to speak up.

—-

UPDATE: I want to make very clear that this post is NOT about validating suicide but encouraging treatment of mental illness.  Please, if you are suffering from a mental illness, do not feel hopeless, as there are so many ways to get help. 

I have also modified and deleted any mention of the word “choice”.  Using this word is highly polarizing and makes the discussion black and white.  What matters is that mental illness can be a killer, and we need to treat it as such.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call  1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

UPDATE 2 (November 3, 2015): Robin Williams’s wife has officially claimed that he did not commit suicide (solely) because of depression, but because of a rare disease called Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia, of which, she said, “Depression was one of let’s call it 50 symptoms and it was a small one.”

In my personal opinion, whether depression or anything else, what Robin Williams went through was a reminder of just how powerful the mind is, and that the brain is just as physical as any organ when it comes to our personal health.  As his wife said, “To understand what we were fighting, what we were in the trenches fighting and one of the doctors said, ‘Robin was very aware that he was losing his mind and there was nothing he could do about it.'”

I can’t imagine the strength it took for his wife to speak up about this, and I am thankful she set the record straight.  I hope that we can all still learn important lessons from this tragic death and grow from it as a culture.

 

Discuss this post on Facebook:

  • Natalya A Johnson

    Funny how wealth is thought to be a reason to want to live a long life…we are fools. We do not see that wealth does nothing but put a temporary band-aide on the gaping hole in our hearts. Mental illness…be it depression, anorexia, bipolar, etc….is the fruit of the fallen world we live in.

    • Zenka Wistram

      No, it’s illness. It’s always existed. It’s not anything to do with any mythic fallen world.

  • HBB CHAI

    Thank you for speaking up. And may you continue to do so. I think this article should go to a larger audience, hope you will consider the possibility.

  • Rivki Silver

    Beautiful and important post.

  • Doniel Katz

    Elad, I appreciate your sensitivity on this. (As always.) But curious to know what part you see bechira (freewill) playing in this equation.

    • I can’t speak for Elad, but I don’t see any real contradiction between what he is saying and free-will. Firstly, because illness can cause a person to do things involuntarily. A fact recognized in halacha in several places, including specifically with regard to suicide.

      Secondly, while it may be that, at least in some cases, a person could have been stronger and resisted the suicidal impulse, this doesn’t really change the fact that the illness killed him. This is analogous to a person who is forced to worship idols. Even though, technically, a Jew is obligated to give up his life rather worship an idol, a Jew who gives in to such a threat is not considered guilty of idolatry. The guilt is entirely upon the person who forced him.

      Similarly, a person suffering from suicidal impulses due to mental illness is essentially being forced to commit an act against their will. While such a petson is certainly obligated to do whatever they can to resist that urge, if they ultimately fall victim to that urge it cannot be said that they are actually guilty.

      • SO well put. Thank you so much for your eloquence and logic. I don’t think I ever could have put it that well.

        I have some other thoughts, but I’ll have to share them tomorrow. Laaaaate.

      • Aryeh Lance Gurewitz

        Where does it say in halacha about illness/involuntary behavior/suicide? (Not saying it doesn’t, just asking.)

        With regard to your second paragraph, is the person not considered guilty of idolatry, or does he just not get the death penalty for it? I never learned the sugia in nigleh but from the Tanya it seems (in my humble understanding) that even when if one is forced to do Avodah Zarah, the separation that occurs between the neshama and Hashem still occurs, which is why we see that many Jews who do not live religious lives will choose to die rather than worship Avodah Zarah–because the deeper level of the soul that is sensitive to that comes to the surface.

        This, I believe, brings us to the common distinction that needs to be made in order to effectively be dan l’chaf z’chus–that between (a) identifying a person’s failure to use his bechira properly and (b) judging the person’s righteousness or worth based on that failure.

        Rabbi Katz?

        • I don’t have the time (and energy) to go through the sources right now, so I can only give you a general response.

          With regard to suicide, halacha states clearly that if the person who killed himself was “insane”, he is to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The poskim also indicate that, in.The absence of clear evidence to the contrary, we assume that this was the case. (This topic is discussed in the halachos of burial in Yoreh Deah. If I remember correctly, the Aruch Hashulchan discusses the halachic assumption that I mentioned.)

          In general, there is a great deal of discussion in the poskim in many areas of the issue of mental capacity and guilt. (The extreme example is the shoteh, who is entirely exempt from mitzvos.)

          With regard to kiddush Hashem, and the obligation of yehareig v’al yaavor, there is indeed a great deal of debate on how to view an act of idolatry done under duress.

          Everyone holds that such a person is entirely exempt from any punishment (including kareis if I recall correctly), however there is some debate over what, if any sin, was committed by such a person. (And this can have some applications in other areas, such as *eidus*.)

          Broadly summarized, many authorities hold that an act done under duress (ones) is not to be viewed as an act of the person under duress in any way. Therefore such a person is not guilty of idolatry at all, but only of failing to fulfill the obligation of kiddush Hashem. Others say that the law of yehareig v’al yaavor indicates that the general principle of v’chai bahem doesn’t apply to idolatry, and thus the prohibition continues to exist. (Nevertheless, the person who was coerced is still not considered a deliberate sinner.)

          As for my rough analogy between coercion and suicidal impulses due to mental illness, it is certainly possible that it wouldn’t hold up completely according to every shita on the din of yehareig v’al yaavor. The analogy is only intended to illustrate the general idea that the Torah recognizes that under certain circumstances a person may not be held fully responsible for his actions.

  • Gryphontamer

    Yes. This, dammit. Yes. Yes, Dammit, yes.

  • Peter Smits

    I was/am bipolar. This is what I’ve learned; it has a trigger, investigate that by self reflection. The social or psychological cause is there, built up from event to event. One can brake this chain by stopping to project the past into the present. Thats how I stay in ballance.

  • Powerful post. I will be reflecting upon your story, and sharing it with others. Thank you for adding your voice to the public discourse concerning mental illness. Best wishes to you on your personal journey, Elad. You, and your eloquent voice, are worth fighting for!

  • Pingback: Contemplating Suicide | Alessandra Nicole | Vivid Morsels()

  • Warmenuf

    Very well said! This may be the most important thing I have read in response to Robin Williams’ sad departure.

  • “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.” In a talk equal parts eloquent and devastating, writer Andrew Solomon takes you to the darkest corners of his mind during the years he battled depression. That led him to an eye-opening journey across the world to interview others with depression — only to discover that, to his surprise, the more he talked, the more people wanted to tell their own stories. http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share#t-261292

  • David Karpel

    Thank you, Elad. Brave and powerful post.

  • Derek Cottle

    It’s true. Depression distorts reality and clouds the mind. When I hear someone compare depression to having a bad day and needing to get over it with willpower, or maybe make some adjustment as you would with anything else that makes one unhappy, I just have to face palm. It’s like they think Robin Williams might have killed himself because he felt bad that his last movie tanked or something else happened that he wouldn’t have liked.

    • Your Everything

      Right? You are SAD not depressed. People overuse the word

    • Aryeh Lance Gurewitz

      Perhaps those who think you can get through it with willpower aren’t implying that the struggle to do so is easy. Maybe they just believe that you have greater inner strength than even you think you have. 🙂

      • I wonder if you would say the same thing to someone who is suffering from another disease, like cancer.

        Yes, it sounds inspiring for a moment, until you realize how utterly insulting it actually is.

        No one here is discounting the idea of willpower. What we’re talking about is:

        1. HOW to direct that willpower.

        2. The idea that sometimes an illness is incredibly powerful, and prescribing ONLY willpower to the situation is not only insulting, it is incredibly, incredibly dangerous. Like telling someone with a broken leg in a race to just walk it off.

        Let’s deal with facts and stop giving over platitudes, shall we?

        • Aryeh Lance Gurewitz

          What if I wouldn’t? Maybe there’s a distinction between mental disease and more physical disease (or whatever the proper term for it may be). What makes you so sure they’re exactly the same, the fact that they’re both called “illness”?

          Why should it be insulting? Based on Chasidus, I think the fact that people have incredible amounts of potential that they don’t routinely tap into should not at all come as surprising. And it’s not their fault if it’s hard to tap into, and it’s not my place to judge them if they don’t tap into it. I also don’t tap into all of my potential, even if my struggle is not mental illness. There’s nothing insulting about that. It is a fact of the human condition and the powers of the soul. It’s only insulting if you decide to be insulted.

          I think you’ve raised the point of how to direct willpower, but I think a lot of people here actually are discussing the idea of willpower, in fact. I’ll review the comments and double-check, if you insist.

          Who said it’s ONLY willpower? There can be other tools besides willpower, but willpower is the foundation. Again, I’m not convinced that the physical and the mental/emotional are so similar, as you are, and I don’t know of any clear evidence.

          I hope you see now that I am dealing with facts. I was just trying to point out a positive perspective on the idea of winning these struggles with willpower.

          • I didn’t say they are exactly the same, I said that they are physical, and thus follow the same principles. How they are addressed vary, just as you wouldn’t use the same treatment for cancer as you would for heart disease.

            Mental illness is inherently connected to the way the brain works. Depression, for example, is connected to a decrease in serotonin. There is much more to all this, but my point is that at the end of the day, the brain is a physical organ. The fact that it is more complicated than other organs, and more connected to our sense of self does not change that fact. Anyone who understands the idea that our body does not define our soul can understand this idea.

            Hassidus is very much in line with this point of view, as I mentioned. The Rebbe, in fact, was very much in favor of psychiatry and psychology. He convinced a psychiatrist to move to Brooklyn to help the Jewish community. He tried to institute a “kosher” form of yoga in order to help mental well-being.

      • Aryeh Lance Gurewitz

        Where’d all our comments go? Anyway, I already wrote this, so I’m just posting it:
        ————-
        Okay, very good. So they follow the same principles, but maybe whatever difference there is is sufficient to differentiate the effectiveness of willpower in the case of mental illness from its effectiveness in the case of cancer or a broken leg (which may themselves be different from each other). By the way, positive outlook and will to live definitely impact cancer, as well. I believe I just saw something from the Rebbe about that, too, though I’m not sure.

        I never said anything against psychiatry and psychology. I don’t think we’re really disagreeing except that you thought I meant that willpower by itself is the only solution, which I was never suggesting, although I don’t think the power of willpower alone should be discounted either.

        Maybe–and this is a big maybe–you could say it’s similar to the struggle between the nefesh elokis and nefesh habahamis. You COULD, theoretically, win and become a beinoni with nothing but pure willpower all the time (Ch. 25 of Tanya), but it’s VERY hard, near impossible (but still technically possible) and you’re much more likely to succeed with proper development of ahava, yirah, the ability to be misbonen, etc., to the greatest extent possible, so that you don’t have to break your will as greatly or as often.

      • Derek Cottle

        And that’s very kind, but it’s not true or helpful. If anything the sufferer is more liable to feel guilty for having their illness, because it’s not something that can be conquered with a can-do attitude. Willpower doesn’t enter into the equation.

        • Steelerskid13

          As someone with a degree in Psychology and someone who has battled depression, I disagree with your point of view. Self talk (aka willpower) does have a lot to do with overcoming depression. Thinking that you have no control over the situation, is actually one of the big problems with depression. This frankly is not true. While positive self talk is not a cure-all. by any means, it is an effective way to treat oneself and does play a part in depression. This isn’t just hearsay…. if you need validation a quick search turned up this. http://library.iated.org/view/SILAPAKUMPISATE2011APO

          • Ashley Garamella

            God bless you for saying that.

          • needingrelease

            Positive self talk is only ONE cog in the wheel. Medications, counseling, proper diets, SUNLIGHT, vitimans D and Folic acid all play a part. I’ve lived 20 years with depression, and my son is living with it too. He’s tried 3 times to kill himself. Therapy has been a blessing.

        • Maria Cuahutle Flores

          Very true. Willpower just sort of gets lost. Depression can be numbing like that. But it’s possible to hopefully regain that through treatments or medication.

        • Lora Lucente

          As someone who has suffered with depression all my life, I couldn’t disagree with you anymore! Willpower most certainly can have part of the equation. It takes willpower for me to achieve each day. Please refrain from your know-it-all attitude and understand each person is different and deals differently! You’re making us look like we are weak idiots who have no chance! Stop belittling the illness and people. Thanks.

  • Sarah Nadav

    Well said

  • Ashley Garamella

    There is always a choice. I know in our society, we always want to lay the blame on someone or something else for our behaviors. However, the fault lies at our own feet for our own actions. Mr. Williams did kill himself. He physically tied something around his neck and hung himself. By you saying that his illness killed him, you are saying to all the other millions of people out there with the same illnesses that they are powerless. That the inevitably of hanging yourself or jumping off a bridge or taking a handful of pills is beyond their control. This is false. There is always hope, there is always a way, there is always a choice. Please do not try to convince people who are mentally ill that this is their predetermined fate. It is not. He could have chosen not to hang himself. He did not make that choice. And that is sad and terrible. My heart breaks for the hopelessness he must have felt and for the pain he has left behind.
    If you are reading this and you suffer from depression or the legion of other mental illnesses, please do not believe what this man has said. There is always hope for you. There is always a better way than taking your own life. You can overcome you disease. It’s not easy, but you can do it. There are places and people that will help you, all you have to do is ask. I beg you, don’t take your own life. Your destiny is in your hands! You have the power to make the right choice!

    • Meera

      What about those that have cancer and decide to stop treatment for whatever reason…I think you are simplifying something that is way more complicated…

    • Katie

      Having fought depression daily for more years than I care to admit I agree, it is a choice. I chose to call a friend and get help. I chose not to hurt the ones I love by not taking my life. I know how depression takes ahold of you until you feel like there is no other way but to end the pain. I agree with the concept that this illness made this beautiful man feel like he had no other choice however there is another choice. I believe that choosing to hope for the dark days to be outnumbered by the good days. I I believe in the hope that no matter how bad things look and seem that things can and will be better. I have been there, on the edge so many times that only the love for my family has saved me, it made me fight. I can see how easy it is to give up but I will always continue to fight . It’s hard but forcing myself to fight for my life makes everyday more valuable to me. There needs to be more attention to mental health in this world. My own brother doesn’t understand and looks down on medications that helped save my life. Asking for help is a choice, not asking for help is a choice as well. Thank you for letting people see that they have more power over their illness than they think they do. It’s such a herd road but to me, it’s worth it. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. “(1 Corinthians‬ ‭13‬:‭13‬ NLT) LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF!!!! NEVER GIVE UP!!!

      • Karla Moseley

        Katie, I so agree! I have fought depression for many years myself. I required medication for many, many years. It was during those years that I sought counseling. It has been through the counseling that I learned how to combat the hopelessness/worthlessness that depression yields. Were it not for my religious beliefs, I would not be here today, as I would have committed suicide back in 2000. It was only my fear of hell that stopped me. My own mother came and rescued me and drove me to the doctor and I was immediately put on meds, which I remained on for 13 years. I no longer require them and although I fight my depression on a daily basis, I no longer struggle with the hopeless and worthless feelings that accompany it. There are certain behaviors which must be changed to prevent these feelings. If people don’t seek this counseling, or don’t find a good, competent counselor, sometimes, even with meds, they fight these feelings.

      • LG

        I agree, but I would also add, realizing the physical components as well and those things that trigger a depressive state. I have been a Christian for almost 25 years and I have had about 4 or 5 long episodes in that time, it wasn’t my lack of Faith or lack of knowledge, it is a physical condition. Some brought on by traumatic events others because of hormone fluctuations. I am on guard now and try to live a life that doesn’t overwhelm me and do those things that help me. Believe it or not, eating an ounce of walnuts a day, helps me immensely. (The omegas) When I switch to almonds, I don’t have the same effect. Staying away from sugar. Because the after crash can bring on depression for me.

      • Ashley Garamella

        “And let us run with endurance, the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12 : 1
        God bless you and keep you, Katie. Keep fighting the good fight!

      • Shandy Wegwitz

        Keep choosing Hope and family and LOVE YOURSELF and never give up the fight.

    • “By you saying that his illness killed him, you are saying to all the other millions of people out there with the same illnesses that they are powerless. That the inevitably of hanging yourself or jumping off a bridge or taking a handful of pills is beyond their control. This is false.”

      There is not one place in this post that I claim there is no hope. There is not one place in this post that I say that all mentally ill people are powerless.

      Is a person who is suffering from cancer hopeless? Is a person who is suffering from any other illness hopeless? In general, no, this is not the case. However, there are times when diseases can become terminal, and the same is true with mental illness.

      When YOU claim that there is ALWAYS a choice, you are inevitably shaming millions of people who have committed suicide or who are close to someone who has committed suicide. You are claiming that they are at fault for that “choice”.

      Your post sounds inspiring, but it is simply one-sided and black-and-white. It is dangerous. And untrue.

      What we need to do is stop talking about suicide and mental illness only at the point of terminality. We need to start talkign about prevention, and about WHEN they have control, and when they have the MOST control. We need to stop giving “inspiring” speeches and start giving PRACTICAL advice. We need to start doing research that leads to people having even MORE control. We need to start diagnosing better so that people know what they have control of in the first place.

      Enough with this semi-science fluff. It’s time to get real. It’s time to help in a true way. And not just tell people that their solution is found through sheer willpower or “just” reaching out or “just” feeling joy or “just” talking to G-d. We need REAL solutions, based on the reality that someone is experiencing an illness.

      • Ashley Garamella

        My post is dangerous? To whom, exactly? Since when is hope dangerous?
        You said that the media shouldn’t be saying he “killed himself”, that that was wrong. Your post said nothing of seeking help or finding another way, ANY other way. You just didn’t like them saying that he did it. Because, according to you, his depression killed him. His depression did not kill him. He killed himself to escape his depression. I inferred from your post that you have been down The Darkest Road. If that’s the case, maybe you should not be so concerned with the wording people use to describe his death, perhaps you could use your voice to help people who are walking down that dark and terrible road to find the light. Honestly, your post is semantics, and completely unhelpful.
        I don’t know you, you don’t know me, we’ve never been in each others shoes or maybe we have and we just don’t know it. I don’t know if suicide has ever touched you, but I can tell you, it has touched me. I carry that burden around with me every day. When someone takes their own life, it leaves a curse on everyone who truly loved them. A curse they carry all of their days on this earth. You cannot ever escape it. The only thing in this world that cannot be undone or taken back is death. If you want to spread awareness, I’m behind you 100%. I have carried my yellow ribbon around for 13 years now. I no longer believe there is such a thing as an idle suicide threat. Those “idle” threats come and if there is no one to help them, they will stop. When that happens, that’s when they’re really in trouble. Those spoken words become internalized thoughts and those lead to actions. Our concern should not be with how a suicide is worded in the media. Our concern should be helping those lost in darkness find the light. Because it’s there. It’s always there. Even after five, ten, or fifty years of being lost in your sickness, it’s still there.
        Your post has a certain apathy about it towards death. I don’t know, perhaps you believe that it is acceptable to commit suicide if you are tired of fighting it. Maybe you think that it was his right to end his own suffering. And my fear is that someone will read your post and think to themselves, “It’s my illness. And this is a way to end it. If I want to escape this madness, I don’t have a choice.” My fear is that someday, you might even think that to yourself. But that is not true. You ALWAYS have a choice. We should be reaching out with giving and helpful hearts. We should be saying, “For the love of all that is good and right, do not do this! Find a different way! And if you need my help, ask me!”When we sit back and do nothing but criticize the media on how they announce thing, we have done nothing. When we say we are powerless, we have done nothing. When we take choice out of our own hands and give it to our illness, we have done nothing.
        I just want to say, I am in no way laying judgment on Robin Williams. I know what it’s like to stand on that ledge, to feel the hopelessness, to give up. I was lucky to have someone help pull me back. My heart breaks for what he went through and I’m sick over what his family is going through now and what they will be dealing with for the rest of their lives.
        Suicide Prevention Hot line 1-800-273-8255.

        • Laura Eckard

          My question is, WHAT are you going to do to “help”? The thing that helped you? Maybe that thing, whatever it was, won’t help me. Or maybe I can’t access that thing. Or maybe my illness is not at all the same as your illness (even though it might appear similar) and so what worked for you would be entirely the wrong thing for me.
          We need to know more, study more, talk more, open up our minds more, etc. I’m not at all personally going after you…I just found your points to be so good as to warrant further exploration (poking the hornet’s nest, so to speak). So please don’t get defensive. Accept my long-winded replies as a rather high form of compliment. Because this topic is so important and people have such varied experiences and knowledge of it that I believe that, in order to move forward in our understanding and compassion, we need to speak our hearts and minds without prancing around the issues because we’re worried that we might hurt the feelings of someone who may seem to disagree with us. The fact is, we are all “ignorant” when it comes to mental illness; none of us knows enough to consistently dispel its ill effects or reliably treat its symptoms. Therefore, discussion from all sides is valuable. We all have so much more to learn…

          • Katrina

            Amen – I agree with Laura and Elad. I’ve been suicidal and I lost my sister to suicide. I have first hand experience and have to say I am glad that this discussion is being had. The writer of the article is bringing up a very important factor in all of this. Ashley- you are just as guilty with semantics. You have to see the bigger picture here. You have written a very black and white response, and are very defensive- it shows. The point is that people are too quick to determine that all suicides can be prevented in the darkest moment, and this is simply not true. When you are there, in that moment, you are in a place you have been in many times, you wait for your wife to leave the house, you make sure all people are asleep, it isn’t a cry for help, it is about getting the deed done.

            What is lacking is our understanding of the human mind, and the depression in it that keeps bringing us to this place. This is what the writer is trying to explain. That getting to that point is a long drawn out road, that suffering is happening to them every day and that we don’t have the knowledge or resources to handle it. That is what needs to be fixed in this system, to pay more towards research, to get more assistance to people.

            In my own experience, the healthcare system is so crowded and hard to navigate for my own mental health. When you are already mentally exhausted from your thoughts and think no one understands you, you have to sift through so many bad drs. or therapists, or social workers, or whatever their titles are. They have so many varying philosophies, and levels of expertise and levels of quality in what they practice. It personally scares me off. And then there are the meds, so many meds, so many side effects, so much unknown. Its not hard to understand why people don’t get the help they need, its too much stuff, and we don’t understand what is good for our problems, or even what our problems are.

            And just a side note, that suicide hotline albeit a worthy and necessary resource is not ‘fantastic’ – and I deliver that statement that with the softest of gloves. I’ve called it twice. Once when I almost crashed my car into a tree after my sister died, and once years later when I had no one else to call and both times were laughable. I was put on hold and disconnected and the other time the person did not have any idea what to say to me they were nervous and unprepared. They may be volunteers and may be doing the best they can, but there has to be something more done, more money, training, something because it was woefully inadequate for me at my darkest of hours.

    • Zenka Wistram

      No, we are not saying they are powerless. We are saying we are fighting an illness and living with an illness with a grotesque fatality rate. That is reality.
      Acknowledging diabetes kills doesn’t mean diabetics are all powerless and doomed. It means it’s a serious illness that requires care to survive.

    • Tameyourdemons

      With manic depression you pretty much don’t have a choice.
      I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember at the age of 13 I started going to the doctors and now that I’m older I have given my depression a name, its easier for other people to understand, so when I’m such a state I’m that person not my “normal self” but that other “person”
      She and I are very different I could have hope but she doesn’t, she has completely given up, she does things differently, she has done many things and tried things it wasn’t really me it was her, my depression.

      Not to be confused with multiple personalities, we do share the same thoughts and memories I do not forget it is just very hard for me to listen to the hope the “true self” may have its like a constant battle in my head that the negative thoughts always win and no matter what other people say I will always find a way to turn it negative when I’m in such a state, putting myself even lower and doing the stuff I do.

    • Nick

      Exactly!

    • Laura Eckard

      This is where we need an educated balance and must chose our words very carefully (while acknowledging we, not a single one of us, has all the “answers.”
      Sometimes help doesn’t help. Sometimes “help” makes things worse. We as a society allow individuals suffering from terminal illnesses to sign Do Not Resuscitate Orders in which they allow life support to be withdrawn from themselves or to prevent further life-saving techniques to be employed once a predetermined point in the illness has been reached, then how can we also blame someone who succumbs to their long standing brain disorder? A DNR is viewed as the humane thing to do, especially when it is per someone’s request. Perhaps we should look at the advanced stages of Mental Illness in a similar manner? After struggling with these issues for 50 plus years, don’t you figure that Mr. Williams was rather well informed about his condition as well as the “options” available to him?
      Maybe Mr. Williams truly had exhausted all the help available to him? Maybe his “choice” was an educated one (just as is someone who signs a DNR clause). Maybe he could have been helped had he reached out. Maybe the only thing standing between his death and relief from his symptoms was a phone call or a pill or a margarita… (ok, probably not that last one, but the other “answers” can also be just as simplistically illogical). But to make it so simplistic as to say “He should have just asked for help” and ” your fate is in your hands” is grossly ignorant and inaccurate. If it were that simple, someone as intelligent, insightful, and competent as Robin Williams would not have died. This is where we get a little fuzzy and unsure about our terminology regarding “choice”. Mental Illness does kill. Yes, there is help available but not to everybody. Not all the “help” is good help. Not all of it is bad help. Sometimes the “help” does the trick and fixes people right up and sometimes the “help” does nothing at all or even makes things worse.
      I’ve personally experienced all of these scenarios. And I can tell you, as someone who’s been through some very dark times, it doesn’t help anybody who’s suffering to hear words of blame and condemnation or even something that boils down to such even though it is thinly disguised as “offering hope” or “being empowering”.
      I strongly suspect that Mr. Williams’ illness did kill him, in the same way that someone who signs a DNR clause dies from their physical illness and is not said to have committed suicide/to have killed themselves; in the same way that the plug is pulled and life support is withdrawn from a coma sufferer. Because that is a choice too, if one wants to talk of choice.

  • Ashley Garamella

    Please do not believe that you do not have a choice, that your fate is out of your control. Make the right choice and ask for help. Do not kill yourself. Suicide Prevention Hot line 1-800-273-8255

    • chelsie trangmoe

      Look so you can call a hotline but you are MISSING THE BIGGEST POINT EVER. Lets make this prefectly clear my dear i can talk about my depression sometimes it may help but trust me there is nothing more irratating than someone telling me to pull my head out my ass and buck up! That only makes me want to kill myself more. You have no bloody idea do you.

  • Eliott Dear

    We are organizing a 12 step program- yes, with sponsors and all (hopefully, one chapter in Monsey/Westchester and one in Queens)- for people suffering from mental challenges and struggles. Thi is posted by the newly formed “DAMA”- Depression, Anxiety, Mood Disorder Association. We would like to commence in approximatley 2 weeks time and it is important to gauge interest prior to securing a venue(s).

    • wesradio

      Eliott, I believe the 12 step programs used in organizations such as AA, NA, etc. are very helpful to many. I would be interested in the logistics of the program your group has engaged. Is there a way and possibility to forward this information to me, via e-mail or snail mail to review and possibly get DAMA type meetings in my part of the country, central Mississippi. My email address is wes_sterling@yahoo.com. Thank you.

  • Gryphontamer

    Ashley, if you have never had depression, you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you have had depression, you do not understand what PopC is saying.

    When you are that beaten down, that tired, that exhausted, and you feel that worthless, it is no longer about choice. It is about feeling that it is inevitable and besides, people would be better off without you. Don’t you dare make this a moral question about how he “chose” to kill himself. How dare you.

  • Kami Knapp

    Thank you Elad for this profound post. We must start to discuss mental health in a deep way in our society and also in our Jewish community. I join you in advocating for mental health issues to be discussed in the Jewish community openly, frankly and deeply.

  • Mavis

    Ashley, you’re missing the point. Depression is not a choice, and neither are its effects. What the author is saying is that depression is an illness, a disease, every bit as real and, unfortunately, deadly, as any physical ailment, like cancer. You could say it’s a cancer of the mind. For people who get cancer, they fight it, they struggle with it, and many are either killed by it or go into remission, only to face it again later. Either way, these people don’t get to choose when the cancer wins. And I’ve never heard anyone say that you can choose when you want the cancer to kill you. Depression is the same. You can fight it, struggle with it, and live with it for so long until it finally defeats you. No one is saying that, with depression, your fate is to kill yourself. Doctors don’t tell cancer patients that there is nothing they can do, they will die. Doctors tell you to keep fighting until the end. Robin Williams fought his depression until it killed him.

  • Elizabeth Berry

    It still needs to be addressed more agressively! End the stigma and taboos that surround mental health!

  • Meera

    While death is never something to be glorified or condoned – we are forgetting about the 63 years he fought this battle and succeeded! It certainly wasn’t an easy fight but he did so for 63 years! In the end, the disease won but I say he fought the good fight!

    • BEAUTIFUL point.

    • Ghisla

      If the body can die through ilness, why can’t the brain?

    • Diagonotter

      Exactly what I was thinking. If you replaced it with any “physical” illness, and you made an assumption, many mood disorders show themselves in adolescence, he was 13 when symptoms presented, he has been fighting for 50 years, and has now sadly succumbed.

    • C K

      Don’t be silly, it wasn’t all 63 years….BUT even so, the fight isn’t there every single day and he has admitted to that during interviews.
      Regardless of it all, it was still a choice and he chose to do it.
      “Remember, suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems”
      ~Robin Williams : ‘Father of the Year’

      • Guest

        So C K, I assume you personally have been affected by depression or another mental illness so you can speak first hand that it is or isn’t a daily struggle and that those that do struggle have the mental choices you ignorantly assume they do?

      • Meera

        So you are saying someone with Alzheimer’s disease chooses to forget?

        • Ken Lindsay

          Those are two different diseases. Apples and oranges.

  • Kristina Calin

    Great post. I agree that mental health needs to be treated objectively and scientifically, just like physical disease.

    I lost my daughter to suicide. We tried to get her help in the mental health sector. The first issue was that she was an adult (over 18) and we could not FORCE her to get the help she needed.

    The second (and I believe, BIGGEST issue) was the mental health facilities that were available to her. She didn’t have health insurance, so we had to pay cash. These facilities advertised themselves as serving all members of the community (they did not advertise themselves as being affiliated with any religion). My daughter was an intelligent and stout atheist. She would beg for help, voluntarily go into a facility, then she would sign herself out a few days later.

    When asked “why?” she would say, “They don’t help me. All they do is shove Jesus shit down my throat and lock me in rooms with a Bible.” I listened as she recalled the ways in which these “mental health” facilities were simply evangelical missions…the only “help” available was belief in Christianity.

    At first, I thought she was using this as an excuse. Then I started doing more research and discovered that her reports were corroborated by a wealth of evidence. I couldn’t help but see the resemblance to early “mental hospitals” who believed that mental illness equaled demonic possession….and the only help available is the supernatural.

    When she shot herself in the head, she left a 2 page suicide note. It was painfully obvious that she believed there was no “cure” for her non stop mental torture. After 2 years of supposed “experts” telling her that the ONLY “cure” for her was Christ, she apparently saw no end for her misery.

    Is THIS the best we can do, as a society? For people who are tormented by mental illness, yet do not believe in supernatural causes or cures….scientific treatment is seriously lacking. Why not just revert to the days when we tied the mentally ill to a wooden stake, shook a “holy book” in their faces, and told them to believe or die?

    • Shannon T

      My condolences to you for your loss. What a brave mother you truly are. I know exactly what you’re taking about when you said your daughter told you all they do is shove Jesus down your throat. She was spot on. That seems to be one of the biggest “therapy” choices that is offered. I can offer an explanation for this: Religion is free. Therapy, medications, hospitals all cost TONS of money. To push Jesus upon people is something that is free, cant cause a lawsuit of not properly handled, etc. I’m a long, long term student of psychology; I’ve studied not only mental health issues but also substance abuse issues. The outcome is the same for both; Jesus is used as a way to heal the problem and that will never happen. There are biological factors, environmental factors, genetics; all that needs to be taken into account when treating people with mental health disorders. What STUNS me is that people are given medications for diagnosis without simple blood tests, or fMRI’s to check to see if the diagnosis is correct and the medication is needed. So many lives could be saved if medical professionals actually did their jobs and didn’t just take the easy way out. Just remember that at one point in time, schizophrenia was viewed as demonic possession (some people STILL think that) yet now we know there are reasons in the brain that cause certain disturbances. Hopefully people will move on from the whole religious aspect of healing and start truly helping people.

  • Hank Stamper

    He didn’t have “tons of money”, he was broke. His career was failing. Yes he battled depression but there were things going on in his life that contributed to him going over the edge. He had 2 failed marriages and substance abuse problems. Is that all the result of depression? Very arguable to say the least.

    Not everyone who commits suicide is necessarily clinically depressed or has a history of depression. Sometimes long term unemployment leads to it, the loss of a loved one, failed relationships, chronic loneliness or PTSD among other things.

    To claim that suicide is the result of the “disease” of depression is an oversimplification. And lets not pretend nobody is trying to address the problem of mental illness. It is not being ignored. The human brain is extremely complex and there are no easy answers.

    What might work in one situation isn’t going to work in another. There will probably never be a pill that gets rid of depression. I do know one thing that has helped some people and that is finding God. Of course the popular culture ridicules that choice.

    • I did not claim that every single time a person commits suicide it is because of a disease. However, Robin Williams’s family and publicist said after his death that he had recently been battling severe depression. It is also known that he has had trouble with depression for much of his life.

      I also did not claim that mental health is ignored. But it is still “second fiddle” in many ways to other areas of health. Don’t believe me? See this link, titled “Most U.S. Health Spending Is Exploding — but Not for Mental Health”:
      http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/02/most-u-s-health-spending-is-exploding-but-not-for-mental-health/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

      I believe deeply in the power of spirituality to aid our quest towards becoming mentally healthy human beings. My blog is titled “Pop Chassid” because I realized that the secular world does not have all the answers and became a religious Jew later in life.

      That, again, is different than mental ILLNESS, which cannot only be cured or managed through spiritual means. It is a physical reality, just like any other physical disease, and must be treated as such. Just as you may pray to G-d to help you with cancer, but still treat it, we must do the same with our mental illnesses.

      To drive the point home: suicide is considered a sin according to Judaism. However, it is virtually unknown to deny burial in a Jewish cemetery to someone who has committed suicide. Why? Because we are aware that, most often, when someone commits suicide, it is because they are not well.

      There is room for religion and science to coexist. It would be wrong to think there is some sort of split. And dangerous.

      • Hank Stamper

        To claim it is a “physical disease” is a bit questionable. The fact suicide rates vary by demographic group tends to undermine that argument somewhat. Religion plays a role as do age, gender, geographical location, economic factors, etc.

        For example, are middle aged Caucasian males living in Western states more prone to get this “disease” because of some “physical” reason or are their social considerations at play?

        The fact married religious people have lower rates of suicide certainly suggests there are many factors involved.

        • Since when do demographics play no role in the illnesses people suffer from? I can think of a million illnesses affected by demographics: AIDS, cancer (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/cancersbyraceandethnicity.aspx), heart disease, etc. EVERY disease is affected just as much by the environment as by the physical makeup of a person.

          The problem I seem to see over and over in these discussions is that people have a very narrow definition of what “physical” means. Physical is ANYTHING involving your body and that includes your brain. The fact that your brain is complicated and is tied in to your sense of self may make that hard to fully understand, but that IS the case.

          That is why people seem to discount the emotional factors in “physical” diseases. They think things can only be worked on through drugs and surgeries, whereas a positive outlook and a balanced approach to life can help ANY disease. It just so happens that since the brain is more attached to emotion and logic, those are great ways to affect it (physically!).

          • Hank Stamper

            AIDS is a classic example of a disease that is spread by certain behaviors. It is a physical disease yes but it can be easily avoided if one observes certain precautions. Certainly suicide can be avoided as well as not all depressed people ultimately kill themselves. Some who have attempted suicide never do so again because they recover sufficiently to avoid the urge.

            You seem to be claiming we have no control over how our brain functions. This again is extremely arguable. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I began to notice certain triggers that enabled me to create coping mechanisms.

            Williams was prone to depression, that much is clear. However, the choices he made in dealing with said depression such as substance abuse may have been detrimental to his coping with the problem.

            Perhaps his world view played a role as well. We simply don’t know. Maybe if his recent films and TV series been successful he would have weathered the storm better. It is worth considering as his death occurred at a time when his financial situation was dire.

            I certainly agree there is an emotional and mental component to every disease, I am just not willing to concede that depression cannot be conquered or at least managed sufficiently to have a decent life.

          • “You seem to be claiming we have no control over how our brain functions. This again is extremely arguable.”

            This is not at all what I said.

            “I am just not willing to concede that depression cannot be conquered or at least managed sufficiently to have a decent life.”

            I also did not say this.

            The problem is you keep trying to attach a black and white philosophy to what I wrote, and are just creating straw men. I am talking about degrees here, and that is what matters.

          • Hank Stamper

            Your point was that Williams did not kill himself, the disease killed him. You couldn’t have been clearer on that. The implication being he had no control over what he did, the choice was made for him. I respectfully disagree.

            To absolve him of all responsibility is to accept that we can’t help ourselves when those dark thoughts enter our mind. That’s just too bleak for me to accept and does not comport with real life examples. By your logic we might as well close down the suicide hotlines because nothing can be done for people.

          • Hank Stamper

            Sad you chose to delete my comments. I guess maybe my arguments were too compelling. Robin Williams did in fact kill himself. The disease didn’t put the belt around his neck, he did.

      • Regarding the law against burying a suicide in a Jewish cemetery, the poskim indicate that, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, there is a general assumption that suicide is the result of mental illness/incapacity.

        It should be noted that this assumption (as is often the case) is based on the norms of the society in which we live. It may not apply in societies that see suicide, in some situations, as “honorable” or praiseworthy (e.g. the samurai practice of suppuku). While relatively rare today, such societies were fairly common in ancient times.

    • Zenka Wistram

      Claritin doesn’t get rid of allergies either. Treating depression doesn’t have to be about “getting rid of it” for it to be affected.
      My deep faith has never cured my depression either, simply, like medication and therapy, given me a tool to live with it.
      William’s family said his suicide was the result of depression. I think it’s disrespectful of you to ignore their voices to push an agenda of bringing anyone to faith.

      • Hank Stamper

        I am not doing that. Statistically those who have faith commit suicide less, that is a fact, not a personal opinion. Some people have been helped in dealing with depression by finding God. Also a fact.

        I have no doubt Williams was depressed, I am just not willing to concede he had no control over his decision. Many contemplate suicide and don’t do it. Some try it, fail, and never try it again.

        To give in to the notion “the disease did it” is to believe he was beyond help. I don’t agree.

        • BeSeven

          To accept the fact that “the disease did it” does NOT mean one believes he was beyond help. It simply means that he did not get adequate, effective help in time to stop the progression of the illness, which is a tragedy, and in no way his fault.

          • Hank Stamper

            When you put a belt around your neck and kill yourself, you are somewhat at fault. You are basically saying all human action is beyond our control which is pure nonsense.

          • BeSeven

            No, I’m not basically saying “all human action is beyond our control.” That would be pure nonsense. Illness is, however, beyond our control to a large extent, especially brain illness. When you say “our control” you are referring to the human brain. The brain is the source of will, of decision making. When the brain is sick, it can become incapable of making healthy choices.

  • Mia

    In a way, this article, though well intentioned, can have the oppisite affect of what it intends. When you say that mental health is purely chemical, that it is not a person’s “true” self (a ridiculously simplified concept in this context but leaving that aside), when you compare it to a purely physical ailment, you totally minimize what might be “real” in their struggle. You totally minimize what might be true existential despair, or unresolved traumas, or genuine difficult adapting to the social reality. I have struggled with mental health a lot, and it is so much more than chemical. That is the great lie of our time.

    • Your Everything

      trauma.. PSTD is different than this kind of depression. This author is right on target. Humans were not meant to think nor feel this way. It’s a biological disease that I hope can be cured one day

      • Guest

        Vive la Freud!

      • Mia

        maybe you have a limited conception of what can constitute as a traumatic experience

        • Your Everything

          Maybe you have limited understandings period

        • Your Everything

          Mia just because YOUR depression stems from some trauma.. there are other kinds of depressions. Just because you cannot conceptualize them does not mean they are not true.

    • I said a mental ILLNESS is physical and not the self. That is completely different than your general concept of mental health. Yes, there are real issues surrounding all this. The brain is the window to the soul. The point is that a mental illness, just like any other illness, is not the true self.

      • Guest

        Maybe the true self does not exist. Mental illness is not entirely physical. That is just what pharmaceutical companies would like you to think.

      • Mia

        The “true” self is a philosophically outdated concept. No one knows what the true self is. Yes, mental illness distorts your perspective, and drugs can help, though they can also be extremely deadening. I’m an actor, actors are generally sensitive people. They feel things deeply, and they often have difficulty living comfortably in the social world. Part of that is the messed up social world. They are often people who have experienced things that might not be classified as “PTSD”, but nonetheless register to a sensitive individual as trauma. Robin Williams talked a lot about his struggles with guilt. There is a physical component to depression, yes. But to say that depression is purely physical is in the interests of no one but pharmaceutical companies. I totally agree that we need to re think how we talk about mental illness, and about personal responsibility. But that is a very complex topic. I’m a Lacanian, I know psychoanalysis has been forced out of mainstream discourse. But I think a lot of that is more about the interests of expediency and capital than people.

        • What you are describing is physical as well. It simply takes form in the brain, and thus is more complicated and attached to our sense of self.

          Did I say depression can only be solved through medication? No, I have gone to therapy for over 9 years, I am aware how important it is.

          But therapy is ALSO physical. It involves teaching and coaching the brain to think differently. The brain is physical.

  • wesradio

    I have given some thought to depression over the years, but Williams passing has certainly brought the disease out more so than I can recall. It has also raised my strong desire to learn more of the disease and these posts have certainly helped in that regard. They are all helpful in my further understanding of the disease. Ashley, I appreciate your posts but feel this issue is somewhat deeper, more complicated than a portion of your posts fail to recognize. My prayers and hope is that, as sad and shocking as Mr. Williams passing is to millions, it could very well be one of the most important acts he has left us with. To bring the subject of mental illness “out” to be recognized and further researched, and to bring the subject to the entire population of our earth to discuss and recognize it in those we associate with…and ourselves.

  • Meghan O’Connor

    It’s a shame that fame seems to somehow give society the right to be angry at a person it’s never even met, or give a psychological analysis to that person as if what the media tells us = the sum of that person. robin williams was a beautiful person. the best way to honor a beautiful person, one that you fdon’t know at all, is to say that you were touched. you were touched by him or you weren’t moved enough to say anything on the matter. because no one here has the right to say anything else. we don’t need to. for once, we need to know how to let there be silence.

    • Zenka Wistram

      There was nothing disrespectful said here, and there was no place where he told people someone else’s story by disregarding their actual experience.
      We can’t afford to wait time to take a message from another death from depression.

  • I don’t understand. You didn’t kill yourself, but it wasn’t a choice? You say this “I had not totally given in to my disease.” That sounds like it involved will. To compare cancer and mental illness is beyond simplistic. You are doing as much damage as you claim Matt Walsh is. He is saying “Don’t give up! Don’t give in! Have hope! You can make it!” You are saying “You don’t have a choice! Your depression controls you! Eventually, it will get you.” Where is the hope in your message?

    • Loveless

      In most cases, “don’t give up, don’t give in, you can make it” only pushes those with severe depression away. It makes them feel less like there is anyone that can comprehend what they feel, and pushes them further down the path to self harm. What’s wrong with telling people it’s okay to be sad? Telling someone with severe depression they can make it is a direct counter to the way they often think. If you think yourself incapable and unworthy of making it, someone trying to convince you otherwise is never going to work.

    • Megan

      Yes! This!: You are saying “You don’t have a choice! Your depression controls you!
      Eventually, it will get you.”

    • Laura Eckard

      another case in which the answer lies somewhere in the middle of 2 extremes…

  • I would agree with the facts, the fact that Robin Williams suffered from depression, yes he did, but i also cant turn away from the fact that he took his own life. By hanging himself, and then saying that his depression killed him is taking the blame off of him for something he physically did. No wad of science is going to tell us exactly what was going through his head at the time, and no amount of psychologists will tell us beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Williams died because of his depression. We as readers and as living humans need to face the facts, that people are responsible for what we do, to each other and to ourselves. No one would feel for Mr. Williams if he was alive and instead killed his best friend because his perception was so twisted because of his depression, no one would make the argument that his disease killed his best friend.

    • Loveless

      ? People get off on insanity pleas all the time, that’s a terrible comparison.

    • atlbraves

      Do you realize how futile it is to assign blame to someone who is dead? Not like they can own up to it, seeing as they’re dead. We need to reflect and learn from what happens in these situations, not assign blame.

    • Da Zozz

      Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel so empty you’d rather be dead? I’ll tell you, it’s not a good feeling. It’s a horrible feeling.

  • jackisback3164

    While I appreciate the attempt to be more thoughtful, more helpful, it sounds like you are trying to objectify something that, by its nature, is subjective. The suggestion is always that mental illness is not well understood, and if only we gave it more attention and study… if only some third party professionals had done their jobs properly, Mr. Williams’ disease would have been caught at an earlier stage and this outcome could have been averted. But what if Mr. Williams had been diagnosed properly and had been involved in the best possible treatment (but this fact hasn’t been reported yet) and yet he still took his own life? To put it another way, consider how some diagnosed bi-polar patients decide one day to stop taking their medications. Why is that? Consider the notion that we may never know the answers to these questions. Consider that the disease is as unique as the person who is struggling with it.

  • msfb

    By the logic of the article, when an alcholic gets drunk and drives, is it the disease drinking and driving or the human? Its the human choosing to drink and then get behind the wheel.

    I understand the authors point but I do not agree. My husband CHOSE suicide. He stopped taking his meds for 2 weeks so he could get low enough that he could take his own life. He told me so himself when he called to say goodbye. I don’t care how low you get in your depression you can always reach out for help. It is a choice. You can choose life or you can choose death. No, cancer patients dont choose when to die but that is organic in a different way. Humans can triumph over depression in a way that we can not triumph over cancer. The problem is that the patient is too depressed to have the motivation or willpower YES WILLPOWER to work with the therapist and continue the treatment because it can be exhausting. I have been there as a spouse and a sufferer. Do you know what its like to be the caregiver of someone with major depression? Someone that wont help themself despite it being put right in front of them? You can choose to seek treatment or you can choose to die. Its that simple.

    • Robert

      So if a depressed person with bipolar kills your family, are u going to say the disease killed them? No. He made a choice. He weighed the options. He was more sad than happy. Its a shame that depression can overtake someone to make them decide that was better than life.. i have battled depression nowhere near what his level was im sure. Ive thought about ending my chronic pain and depression. But thankfully i wasnt as far down as alot of others. But i made a choice to live.not my disease. My heart goes out to all that were affected by his passing…

  • Joseph Venné

    I didn’t murder the writer of this article. My disease murdered them. Also, it was the gun’s fault as well. Diseases and guns are bad, people are innocent. Blame the rope maker. – Wait, I apologize. My keyboard tends to be quite asinine and frequently makes sarcastic comments that could easily offend idiots that don’t believe human beings have the gift of choice.

    • yramocan

      I’d appreciate it if the mods didn’t delete this comment either.

      • Joseph Venné

        I’ve struggled with depression. we all make a decision every day about how we’re going to look at the world. life is how you look at it. there is no excuse for murder or suicide. to think people are actually starting to believe so is insane. doesn’t matter how many times you try to blame something else, you’ll always get the same result: human beings are responsible.

    • Dina

      Look, these are things that exist, and it sucks.

      • Joseph Venné

        Yes due to the sins of our fathers we are presented with these curses. But are we seriously going to shake our fists and blame the curse itself?

  • yramocan

    I don’t know why my last comment was deleted. It, in no way, violated any terms of use policies on this site. So here it goes again:

    I appreciate the sentiment of this article, but these two quotes disgust me:

    1. “He had as much money as he needed.”
    2. “And here was a man who had everything: fame, fortune, adoring fans. And he had, just like that, given up the gift he had been given.”

    Are you implying that one cannot possibly be in their right mind to make a decision to end his own life in spite of his wealth, fame, or fanbase? This is an ignorant statement. Recall the adage: “Money does not buy happiness.” Just because Robin Williams had it did not necessarily make him a “happy” or “satisfied” person.

    Need I remind you of the number of other individuals who had fame, fans, power, or fortune who made the same decision that Robin Williams decide to make?

    I beg to differ.

    Also, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t delete my comment this time.

    • Dina

      Sorry… I don’t think you got it… I think maybe it was deleted because you don’t really get it and your commenting criticism that really doesn’t apply. OBVIOUSLY money doesn’t buy you happiness, OBVIOUSLY people with fame, fortune, and loving family have ended their lives. The point of this article is that it wasn’t rational, it was mental illness. We know that Williams was battling depression (along with a host of other issues for years..) I read both of these statements that “disgust” you (not sure why you chose “disgust” while we are on the topic of picking apart sentences, it sounds like you just found them ignorant) and as I read them I understood them to be referring to the questions popularly brought up among people who do not understand mental illness… basically “how could he have killed himself? he has everything!” The point of this article is that fame, fortune, and a fulfilling life, do not solve a persons problems! You seem to have misunderstood. It’s like you only read those two sentences.

  • Dina

    Thank you for writing this. It is so difficult for some people to understand, no matter how clearly we try to relate it to them, that mental illness can be a very real, seriously life threatening, and debilitating condition. I think that for some, when they hear of depression they liken it to times that they have felt sad or been on a low in terms of mood. Moods are natural, but depression and other diagnosed mental conditions are unlike anything that a healthy person can imagine. I don’t think that the world needs to be able to conceivably imagine these things, I think that critics just need to open their minds and accept that they do not know what other people suffer through.. and then exercise compassion.

    This is such an important discussion. It can’t possibly even be a debate.

    Thank you for taking this tragic event and using it as a tool to educate and shed light. I’ve spent time with the Williams family, so its a little bit extra shocking to me that some people can be so disrespectful during this time. They are a real family, and Robin Williams was a real father, husband, friend and role model to many. Thank you for clarifying that he was not a victim of his own hand. He was a victim of a terminal mental illness. Gd willing soon we should be blessed with remedies to every illness.

  • Joseph Venné

    It is important to understand the depths people can be brought into concerning depression. Robin Williams I absolutely adored for his works, and commend him as well for battling his disease as long as he did. However, this does not permit him to do what he did, nor does it signify to others that a loss to depression is out of your hands. If people relinquish their responsibility and blame the disease in just this one occasion it will bring about so many horrors in the days to come. The title of this article is wrong, though the points made within the article can sway you to almost agree with it. It’s scary to think it is possible a disease can cause you to take your own life. It can, but you are responsible for that decision. Just because the option is presented to you doesn’t mean you are forced to take it. As thoughts always pass by us freely, willfully obtained or not, it is our decision to linger on them. The next step for insurance companies, as they dwindle on this phantom truth that depression can kill, is paying out on life insurance policies to families of people who take their own life. Is this where we want to go as a society? That is a dangerous road. I personally have to draw the line at nonsense like the title of this article.

  • Sandy Mitchell

    How I wish that those who, with good intentions no doubt (but we all know what the road to Hell is paved with), put forth nostrums (“noun: a medicine, esp. one that is not considered effective, prepared by an unqualified person”), one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’ – usually some variation of: “Hey! Sufferer! Did you know that all you have to do to end your suffering is – make a different decision! Wow – aren’t you grateful to me that I gave you that Magic Bullet?”…how I wish those people would learn enough humility to recognize that their favorite ‘remedy’ often just makes things WORSE for those that are battling something much greater than that… how I wish those nostrum-pushers could see how ARROGANT they are in their assumptions? When someone is so desperate for a remedy for their suffering, and all you give them is essentially a ‘pep talk,’ and they try it for a while and it doesn’t remove their pain – they often feel even greater despair: “Great – all these people are telling me if I just do what they say, my condition will improve… but it hasn’t. I must be even more of a loser than I already thought I was.” And that often results in such great despair they the person loses all hope and takes their own life.

  • Kristen

    Great read. While I understand how suicide confuses and angers many people; I also understand how misunderstood mental illness is. If your mental state is impaired it is not always possible to make the right choice, to choose to have faith, to choose to tie a knot and hang on a little longer for your loved ones. In cases of severe depression, it is not always as simple as shifting ones attitude or making a phone call for help. Mental illness is not given enough attention in this country. Family doctors are handing out prescriptions for anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication like candy and failing to disclose potential for addiction, the possibility of difficult withdrawal, etc. There is a stigma surrounding mental health issues and it is no surprise many people avoid seeking the help they need. If I had a penny for every time someone suggested deep breathing exercises or vitamin supplements when I was at my lowest, I would be rich. There is a huge difference between a bad day and a bout with DEPRESSION. We need to recognize it and diagnose and treat it PROPERLY, as we would a physical ailment, but first people who do not understand it need to learn to take it seriously.

  • Hannah Byrne

    Thankyou for writing this, i know it may have taken alot to do so, its well written and helpful to those who also suffer xxx big love

  • BeSeven

    Thank you for writing this! I made a similar point last year in this blog post I wrote: http://jmhofwiw.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/suicide/ As someone interested in language and its power, I think it’s absolutely critical that we eliminate the phrases, “mental illness/health” from our vocabulary. “Mental” refers to the “mind,” but what is the “mind” if not the functioning of the brain? The brain is a physical organ. So distinguishing mental illness from physical illness is a LIE. There is no distinction. The use of the word, “mental” perpetuates the myth that there is some other will, some other chooser, above or beyond our physical brains that makes choices. This myth is why people can say that Williams CHOSE to kill himself; why people feel free to judge those who suffer with these conditions. There is no choice-maker outside of the human brain, and if the human brain is ill, isn’t functioning properly, how can that person be responsible for that choice? Perhaps if we called it what it is, “brain illness,” or “brain disorder,” and we spoke of “brain health,” it might go a long way to eliminating the stigma and misunderstanding.

  • venicementor

    The sadness lies in the fact that mental illness is a decease, that can or cannot be cured.

  • Lil’ Rokstarr

    I disagree with this post enirely, and only because of my own dealings with the so called mental illnesses, which by no means can be considered a disease (Nuerological disorders excepted). These things like depression and bipolar most certainly can be conquered by will, and I do it everyday. Only because I’ve learned to not associate depression with a disease that needs treatment have I been able to ride its waves without falling off my board. Between Autism and Schitzophrenia, both of which I am diagnosed, I’ve faced the worst and expect to see more. Of course, all my life I’ve been taught viligantly by the world around me that my “illness” is not an excuse for my actions. Ten years later I’ve learned to separate that which is out of my hands and what I can control. Between the people I associate with, and the goals I pursue. My will power has, in a small way, had a positive influence on the circles I bring myself to be a part of, by continuing to live by my mantra that states, “progress begins with a choice,” and it really does. Struggling is a part of life, and while no one likes to be uncomfortable, I find it difficult to believe that mental illness should be seen as an inhibitor, but rather a hurdle on the racetrack through life. One that can and will be overcome… but only if you want to…

  • Devorah

    Really good point. Most people don’t realize that the line between being “healthy” and suicidal is so fine. Unfortunately, its most of the people who don’t know who judge…

  • Nick

    Wow. This is the reason why the world is going down the s**tter. No personal accountability. Everything is someone else’s fault, and they’re a victim of some new “illness” or “disease” and every damn thing seems to be a disease now. Pathetic.

    • Hymie

      You seem to think that compassion is a disease as well.

    • atlbraves

      I wish cancer patients would just be “more accountable” and stop blaming all their problems on their disease! Am I right?

    • TK

      May you never be in a place you understand.

      Until then, I suggest you shut your yap about things you don’t understand.

  • Sarah Hazarmerdi

    “She couldn’t help but be angry with him…He had fame, fortune, and adoring fans.” So if he wasn’t rich and famous you wouldn’t be angry with him? When will people understand that money, fame and fans are not everything? You could have all the money in the world and be surrounded by a sea of people and still feel alone. Celebrities are humans too. Just because they rich and famous that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems or can get sick (for example, getting sick with a mental illnesses like depression). Stop looking at him as a famous and filthy rich celebrity and start seeing him as human. Try measuring him by his human qualities rather than his material qualities.

  • Amanda Hollis

    I lost my father at the age of 12 to suicide! I didn’t understand it then and was so angry with him for not thinking about how we, his children felt, how it would affect us!! As an adult coming out of a nightmare of a childhood I discovered and was diagnosed with several mental health issues! As I began understanding and trying to make sense of the laundry list of diagnosis’ I realized what my father was feeling! I understand the pain he was in, he was suffering physically, emotionally and he didn’t want to put his children through having to take care of him as he got sicker! His family was being ripped apart, his youngest daughter was being sexually abused and he felt completely helpless!!! I feel that because of that experience in my life, no matter how desperately I want out, not matter how painful life is….he would want me to be strong where he couldn’t be and it’s not an option! Sometimes I wish it was because I feel my husband and my kids deserve better than the catastrophe train wreck that I am!

    • Yonatan Gordon

      In Judaism we speak about making tikunim, correcting the past from our actions made in the present. By perservering amidst obstacles, from persevering each day, in addition to benefiting your family, you are also rectifying your father’s life.

      This is the Jewish version of time travel. That from our actions today, we can “travel back” and correct the wrongs from the past.

      May God give you abundant strength, resolve, and most of all, many happy years spent enjoying your family.

  • harleydavidson

    By this author’s argument, all evil acts done to oneself and to others are all
    driven by mental illness…because no normal being will want to do harm
    to anyone include oneself. Therefore, all criminals cannot be held
    accountable because they did bad deeds due to mental illness. As
    facetious as it sounds, it is tantamount to saying my finger pulled the
    trigger which shot the bullet that killed a man. It wasn’t me. It was
    my finger. It wasn’t me. It was my illness.

  • Michael Baxter

    It’s not a disease, it’s a state of mind, or a revelation. Please don’t simplify emotions towards the world into some “disease”. Just because someone wants to kill themselves because they realize there is no point to it all, doesn’t mean, in any way, that they are wrong, because face it, they are completely right. There is no point to anything. I live outside myself, and always had. If I did not live this way, I would have killed myself long ago, if only to see what would happen. But living outside my shell, I understood that I too am a thing, and killing myself would have no resounding point or affect. Therefore I chose to not kill myself, even after realizing the pointlessness of existence outside the admiration of beauty. We’re all connected, and yes, in a most perfect way, we are all one in the same and responsible for everything that happens, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to live by that rule, because it’s pointless. What happened here is a man killed himself, for whatever reason. That’s all there is to it. Perhaps he had a good reason, but reasons don’t matter. There just is. There is no disease, there is no luck and there is no god. There’s just beauty. Even death is nothing in comparison to beauty; a futile worry in every way. Fearing death is the same as one fearing the breaking a chair and therefore not sitting, or painting a wall a different color. Death is nothing more than a change, as all things change.

  • Linda Swihart

    I’m glad you wrote this post too, THANK YOU. It helps me deal with mental illness in a friend. It is a sad but hope-filled message. Thank you again.

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  • Bob Harrington

    One of the things that people don’t realize is that, for mental health, there is NO CURE, only management. All that we can do to survive is try to keep ourselves balanced… until we leave this plane of existance.

  • Gary Clark

    I do not have this illness myself, but have experienced it for many years through family members, including several suicide attempts (fortunately not successful). People who have never experienced it think it is something that you should just snap out of, that it is the same thing we all experience when we feel “down”, but it is so much more than that.It is just as much an actual disease as any other like heart, liver, etc, except there is no blood test or xrays that it can be seen on. We all really need to try to understand these illnesses more and recognize just how real they are.
    Gary Clark

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  • julia34

    Well I’m glad you all took a look at his medical records and diagnosed him. In some articles they say he was dealing with depression not that he has been diagnosed with a mental illness or manic depression. His latest TV show tanked which he may have been embarrassed over. He was having money issues that’s why he took a TV show to begin with it wasn’t his first choice. He was bled dry from divorce and they report that no he did not go back to drinking but he felt he may because of stress so he was fine tuning himself back in the 12 step program to prevent it. We all don’t really know what he was diagnosed with or what caused his depression so we can’t say without a doubt that he had a mental illness. The police are pouring over his medical records right now and I guess when the case has been investigated and closed we may hear about a possible suicide letter. Until then we don’t really know what caused him to go over the edge and commit suicide. Maybe it was a bunch of life issues leading up to it. Who knows we can only speculate not diagnose

    • BeSeven

      His has publicly stated that he battled clinical depression for many years, and clinical depression is classified as a “mental illness.” His wife also stated that he was suffering severely with it recently. Personally, I loathe the term “mental illness” because it creates a separation between the brain and the body that does not exist. The brain is PART of the body, and therefore there should not be a distinction between the two. The distinction causes stigma, and the false impression that people with disorders of the brain like depression should be able to just snap out of it.

  • AnnBlakeTracy

    It was not suicide! It was not his disease! It was not his choice! I firmly believe it was an adverse reaction to the drugs that they gave him that caused him to take his life.

    As more comes out I think we will most likely see in this case that it could have been REM Sleep Disorder due to the time that it happened. They generally will happen in the middle of the night or early morning hours. Antidepressants are found in 86% of those being diagnosed with it.

    In the past it was known mainly as a drug withdrawal state. If the rehab had been changing his meds around that could have triggered it. The meds produce horrifying nightmares and then sleepwalk. That is REM Sleep Disorder.

    Was he acting out his worst nightmare? Someone needs to ask for his sake and the sake of his family.

    Those who have had problems with alcohol should never be given an antidepressant because studies demonstrate that doing so will cause almost half of them to increase their drinking!

  • Roy Glover

    If you don’t think people with a terminal or chronic illness suffer from severe depression then you have no clue wjat we go through. Your friend has every rigjt to be angry because on top of her physical ailment she is battling severe depression. I live with chronic illness and battle depression but through my will to live I stay alive. I feel no pity for Robin he took the cowards way out. He hurt his family, friends an fans like me. Depression is not a disease it’s a state of mind. Society now is to quick to take responsibility from our shoulders and turn things that are a matter of willpower into a disease so you can say it’s not my fault I have a disease. Depression, Alcoholism, obesity all bein claimed as a disease because wrak willed people cant control themselves. When you live with a terminal illness or a chronic illness then you learn the true definition of pain and what a disease really is. Please do not try tell us we don’t know what depression is ever again. Wait until you know every day could be your last, or every hour of evety day you are in pain and know that it is never going away. Your post made me sick

  • Justin Morgan Saunders

    THANK YOU for posting this people really do not understand even with medications they can’t protect you 100% of the time from having a relapse. When i used to have my serious attacks/episodes it was like i was trapped in my head and could see what i was doing but do NOTHING to stop it. Although Robins passing is an incredible loss it has opened the worlds eyes to this disease more so then ever and i think his final gift was opening so many peoples eyes to this disease.

  • nakiya fant salley

    I believe this person needs more evidence because its not convincing me that he did not kill him self. I know he killed himself because his personal assistant found him dead in a chair with a belt around his neck.Whoever agrees or also knows give me a shoutout thank u !

  • Doe, a deer

    i’ve been trying to avoid this essay, but it keeps popping up on my friend’s list. I understand where the writer is coming from, but the language they choose to make their point amounts to: depressed people, when depressed, have no agency. and as someone who has experienced more than my share of severe depressive episodes, i reject that claim. if i had no agency, i could not have picked up a phone and called for help. or made the effort to refill a prescription. i believe it likely that Robin Williams made a deliberate choice that he was done fighting this demon. Is it sad? Yes. Is it a loss for those who love him? Yes. But I refuse to see him as a passive victim of his disease. If that was true, he would never have survived this long.

  • Tommy Lee

    As someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts, I have to disagree with this article’s underlying premise. Suicide does culminate in a choice and to say otherwise takes away hope from people who wish to fight it. Why else would we use words like “struggle” if none of it was in our hands?

  • wellswmn97

    I loved Matt Walsh’s blog. He is right. It is a choice. When you get down to it……….a choice he made. A permanent solution to a temporary problem…….Nobody put that belt around his neck, nor cut his wrist. That was time spent. Not even particularly fast. His choice…………..

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