Why people should not hypothesise on what caused Robin Williams’s suicide
I recently read this post by Draper Kauffman about what caused Robin Williams suicide a few weeks ago. She argued that it wasn’t depression, but despair as well as a circle of people who didn’t see the signs, what killed him. She also discussed there’s almost always a triggering event causing this.
This is not an isolated idea as I have actually read many other articles suggesting that his family failed to help him and that it was his addictions that played a big part in his suicide. I truly believe this is a very dangerous area to question and to dig into as the fact is that none of us can see what was in his mind and there are no standard responses for these events.
But let me explain:
- Depression and despair go hand by hand. Technically it is called 'hopelessness' and it is one of the core symptoms of depression. it is actually one of the symptoms that more closely correlates with suicide. Not everyone who feels despair due to a difficult situation is depressed, but depression makes you despair. It doesn’t matter what the situation. Having supportive people around can help, but it will not stop depression from happening no matter how supportive they are. Many times you won’t be able to see it. However, neither depression nor despair kill on their own. They make one vulnerable indeed, but one can survive and have a normal fulfilled life after suffering from them.
- It’s not true that there’s always a trigger. For instance, you can still get cancer even if you eat healthily, don't smoke and are in your 20s; it's very rare, but it happens. In the same sense, you can become depressed having fame, wealth and great people to support you. Having a great life does not always protect. Substance abuse is not a trigger either, though it may contribute negatively for most people, of course. For others, the use of alcohol or drugs is an attempt to self-medicate. In many cases it is more like a consequence of depression rather than the cause. Having said that alcohol and drugs on aggregate make depression worse. But the point is that, as many other diseases, depression can just start without any concrete reasons.
- Lastly I think it’s unfair to blame in his closest circle of people for not taking care of Robin. I am sure he mattered to them. I am sure they probably attempted to help him. I refuse to believe there was none there for him and that none saw what he was going through. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to succeed, but Robin’s suicide should not be seen as their or his failure. Depression is an horrible illness. Even a single episode can shorten life expectancy by 7-11 years according to a recent review by Chesney et al. (2014). It can trick the person and loved ones and make it impossible to help the individual with the illness even with the best will in the world.
I have witnessed this illness close to me at different times and in different levels. In one of these cases, sadly, the end for this girl was similar to that of Robin Williams. None in her extended network would have thought she was going through a hard time. She looked happy, she laughed a lot, she didn’t show the symptoms of a depressed person, she seemed to have a nice life and was always surrounded by loving friends who were like sisters and brothers. So what happened to her? Well, just a horrible mental illness.
We will probably tell her story in this blog with some help from her closest friends. Speaking about mental health shouldn’t be taboo. Speaking openly about any disease helps people coping and realising we are not alone, both those suffering from it or those living near someone who does.
Do you also want to share your experience with us to help other people? Please, get in touch.