Rest in Peace Robin Williams. A Perspective on Depression and Suicide.

If you take one thing from my post: "A call for help from someone who is depressed or suicidal will not be loud and booming, and will have taken every iota of dignity to even whisper. So don't take it lightly just because they say it quietly. Don't be afraid to squeak for help and know that you will be allowed to hide in your cocoon until you want to come out."

Writing this on 12th August, I'm feeling shocked and saddened by the news of Robin Williams' death, along with the rest of the world. You can tangibly feel that the world has lost someone special and is at a loss with their absence. For someone as magical, charismatic, entertaining, intelligent and wonderful as Robin Williams to have taken their own life is just such an enormous tragedy, it's hard to contemplate. At the second I heard of his death I assumed it was by natural cause - heart attack, maybe, but then to hear the word suicide was such a shock. It saddens me to think that now, when we watch his work, it will be tainted... in the back of your mind you won't be able to help but to think of how his life has ended. But even through the darkness, his light will shine on.

But this is not just about celebrities. It's so very sad, to the core, to think of when people are in that darkest of dark dark place and cannot see a way out, cannot see a light, cannot see a point, can only see struggle, do not have the fight, do not have the energy to even want to ask for help, don't want to ask for help because don't want help, because what can anyone do, it's all too hard.

I want to address something candidly, and it's the subject of labeling suicide victims. You know, I was about to write "it's sad that he was not able to reach out to someone for help". It is very easy for us to sit here and say that, and ask how someone in that situation, in that place, could not reach out for help. It's easy for us to say "no matter how dark your place was, no matter how low you are, we could and we would nurse you out of that place, don't be ashamed." But that is sadly missing the point. Also missing the point is when people say that suicide is selfish and cowardly, and it saddens me when I hear this. [Yes and no: I am glad you don't have the perspective, but I wish you could be more open minded.]  It is easy for us to say that, if we are not in that place. But you cannot know another person's place. And you cannot, you cannot, be presumptuous to say that they are being selfish, as if to say that they were not a caring person, a person who loved and respected their family. You are saying they are selfish because they could do this to their family. Some people who are in that dark place of utter despair may have a shred, an atom of strength, that they can hold onto, and that atom of strength might be their family, more specifically, that they can't put their family through pain. They might be able to make a decision to go on struggling, so that their family doesn't suffer. Suicide is not cowardly, I want to say that. People assume that someone who has taken their life has done it because they want an easy way out. To make that assumption is to not acknowledge the difference and diversity of human experiences. Understand that your experience and your mind is not the same as everyone else's, and even though it is hard for most of us to contemplate that place where people feel the only way to survive is suicide, it's a thing; it just might be a place beyond your understanding.

I don't know what causes some people to have these experiences and not others. I don't know whether it is something we are all collectively doing wrong - are we taking on too much, is there too much pressure, is is something we're consuming? Or is it something we are born with? A mix of things, I think. But mostly, personally I think that people are born with brains that are wired differently, and to a large extent we are each limited in the way that we see the world and can deal with our lives. Do you know what, I have been to a dark and sad place before, a couple of times, and I do not say this flippantly or for attention... no one, no one, wants that kind of attention or to be associated with that kind of weakness. It is in no way a badge of honour or an easy thing to say. No one wants to be in that situation. I also say it with knowledge that lots of others have been in the same situation and they're people just like you and me and you might never guess. That is why I can understand that it is not as simple to say "why didn't they ask for help." If all you see is darkness, and all you see stretching before you for the rest of time is darkness and repeated struggle and heartache, relentless, with no break, you don't want to be saved from that. You are not thinking "If I tell someone and ask for help things will get better". Things being better isn't in your realm of possibilities. And talking to someone is not an option because you don't have the energy to talk about it. Not an iota. It's not laziness, it's that you physically and mentally don't posses the energy. You've shut down. You might just want to lie on the floor and disappear into the ground. Everything is too much. It all hurts. It hurts to speak. It's a struggle to think. That is why you cannot possibly judge someone else's experiences or choices. You do not understand what they are experiencing in their mind, and it is not within their control. 

If you are lucky, you will have a shred of something that pulls you out of your darkness, and that shred of a morsel might be your family. Not in the way of reaching out to them, because that attention might be too much for you to bear, because what you're wanting is a cocoon in the middle of nowhere; the last thing you are wanting is counselling and questions. But family in the sense that, you don't want to hurt them. But you cannot judge someone, you cannot judge someone as selfish and cowardly, who doesn't have the strength to cling onto that small lifeline. Because maybe in their experience, that shred of a lifeline - they couldn't see it - I don't know, I can't say, none of us can, because we don't know. You can't know what they went through. How can you possibly label someone a coward, when they are in such despair, that they cannot see a way. No one chooses to be in that place.

It is immeasurably heartbreaking to think of what was going on in the mind of any human who takes their own life. I really do believe that having strong networks, making sure your friends, family and community know they are loved and supported can make a difference. When something like this happens, it makes you want to broadcast to everyone you know: there is nothing we can't beat... you don't have to speak, but if you need to lie in a cocoon with the covers over your head, not speaking, not talking about it... but with someone watching over you, that's okay, just say the word. There are rainbows beyond the darkness, but it's okay if you can't see them right now." You know what... sometimes I think we pass it off too easily when people call for help. Someone in that situation is rock bottom, and it would have taken every iota of strength and their last shred of dignity to even mention, quietly, that they were feeling that way. A call for help from someone who is depressed or suicidal will not be loud and booming. So don't take it lightly just because they say it quietly.

Sometimes it's too late. But again, we can't understand the extent of the experience. So all that is left to say is thank you, and rest in peace.

Russell Brand on Robin Williams


  1. Very true.
    I had tears reading much of this post as so much of it I can identify with personally through past experience and the present efforts I make to be aware of feelings and thought habits that lead places I don't want to go again.
    I have never tried to kill or harm myself or others. Thankfully, I do not know what that is like. No one does unless they've been there... and even those who've been there won't know exactly how someone else who has, feels. We can not climb inside the heads of others.
    Those who judge suicide, choose to... whether it is a stubborn or emotionally charged instinct that governs their attitude or a genuine incapability or lack of life experience that stops them from understanding that not everyone thinks the same.... I'm not quite sure. Both, probably.
    There are some who can snap out of it, through ability or practice. For others it may seem impossible and, like you said, they manage to find shred of something that pulls them out of their darkness and are able to just live in the moment long enough to climb out of the hole and sit on the edge. To be aware of sounds, their own heart beating, the sun on their face or the breeze against their cheek long enough to stand, step away from the edge and walk in a different direction... even if just for a little while. In my personal experience, each time it has been possible to train my brain to think differently through realistic thought and self-talk therapies under the guidance of a psychologist (and I say psychologist specifically because few people seem to really know the core difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist and the difference is a big one and can affect the success of the outcome). Each time I catch myself more quickly and don't fall as deep down that hole. The less distance down, the less distance back up.
    Yes, there are so many brain and thought training options available for different situations and individuals ,CBT, SFT, ACT, coaching and positive psychology etc. and it's amazing.... for thos eof us who are lucky to have the right formula for healing at precisely the right time...
    The crux of the matter is that tragically, inexplicably, there are cases where the individual has a moment of such extreme loneliness and despair that they really feel there is no other option for them. Yes there is help available but it doesn't do squat when the person is unable to seek help. Even though I can empathise with feelings of anxiety and depression, darkness and despair toying with its most dangerous form, I have no idea what it is like to feel so low that you actually DO IT. Sadly the only people who would know aren't here anymore (unless they're revived in time I suppose).
    Who are we to judge? In hindsight, there is always something that could be done, it always seems clearer after the rain... but during a storm it's hard to see or hear. So, so tragic.
    Robin Williams represent millions of people over history who have felt this way. Yet people still post on FB like its shocking and new and somehow an insightful revelation that famous wealthy people aren't happy. Well yes, it's always shocking. But new? Haven't we moved past this? Haven't we learnt that like most illnesses, depression and anxiety strike ruthlessly without discrimination? I wonder how long it will be before society truly and wholly accepts that mental illness affects the majority of the population personally and it is the responsibility of the whole population to show acceptance and support. It's not enough to give $2 to Beyond Blue, wear your ribbon and forget about it. Be aware of those around you. Just be there incase they are able to sit on the edge with you and feel that breeze.
    You said it right when you said, "No one chooses to be in that place."

  2. Thanks for your words :) It's strange when it happens to a "BIG" personality, I think because it makes people feel a little bit "woah"... if they couldn't make it... this thing (depression, mental illness), is REAL. It is such a tricky and delicate situation, to play it down. Because when someone does "reach out" (which could be simply saying "I feel depressed/low" and not saying what they are actually thinking "I have been thinking about ways to end my life") it truly is hard to be that crutch. Especially if you yourself are feeling fragile, or if it's coming from someone who has had a long-term struggle. It's not easy for the sufferer or the carer, and even MORE hard is that the sufferer most likely knows that - they know their burden affects the people around them. Russel Brand's post (in the link at the bottom of my post) says something like (not in context) "Robin Williams could have tapped on the shoulder of anyone in the world and asked for help" and maybe that's why it's more shocking for a celebrity... it's like, "yeah, we would help the celebrity but can we really take our parent/sibling/friend seriously, they're just going through the same battles of us all, can't they just pull up their socks and get on with it?" This is muddled, but I suppose I am acknowledging that in spite of being able to understand *that* depression side of things, I, for reasons you also know, can understand being the crutch, and that *that* position is also hard to navigate. All being said, I really feel as though if any "silver lining" can be taking from this is that I think people who may not have understood before, will start to realise that mental illness is a real thing, that it's not something that is related to success or money or whatever, it's indiscriminate and, you know, just to be a little more sympathetic and understanding of one another and our differences and individual battles and journeys.