Actor Robin Williams, Depression and Suicide: A Necessary Conversation

On August 11, 2014, the news broke that famed American actor and comedian Robin Williams, aged sixty-three, died from an apparent suicide. According to various reports, Williams suffered from depression throughout his life and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.  However, while some comedians might use comedy as an antidote to help people deal with mental health issues, many people also hold the belief that comedians are susceptible to depression.

According to reports, Williams was hospitalized in March 2009 due to heart problems and underwent surgery to replace his aortic valve.  According to various sources, the heart surgery might have triggered and intensified his depression.  In July 2014, it was also reported that Williams had admitted himself into the Hazelden Foundation Addiction Treatment Center in Lindstrom, Minnesota, for continued sobriety treatment related to his alcoholism.

On August 11, 2014, Williams was discovered at his home in California by his personal assistant. An emergency 911 dispatcher received a telephone call reporting that Williams was unresponsive and not breathing according to various reports.  At a press conference held August 12, 2014, Marin County sheriff’s spokesman, Lt. Keith Boyd, told reporters that Williams had apparently hanged himself with a belt and that the cause of death based on preliminary autopsy results was “asphyxia due to hanging.” Williams’s publicist later confirmed that the actor suffered from depression.

This is a sad reminder that mental illness is non-discriminatory. It can affect anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, celebrity, religion, gender, or socioeconomic status.  It is therefore imperative that there be an on-going conversation about mental health issues.

Depression is a devastating disorder; however, there is hope.  With appropriate medication and psychological treatment, a person with a mental illness can recover and live a meaningful and productive life.  Suicide is always tragic but with the death of a well-known celebrity, such as Robin Williams, one has to be careful not to sensationalise the act because the death of Williams might give tacit consent to anyone who may be contemplating suicide.  This is an opportunity that should be used to encourage our loved ones to talk about their struggles and to seek help.

On August 14, 2014, it  was  reported by Robin William’s third wife, Susan Schneider, that the actor also suffered from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.  This announcement has caused  public speculations  that William’s Parkinson’s disease  might have increased the severity of his depression. According to researchers, there is a link between Parkinson’s and depression. The National Institute of Mental Health stated that “Serotonin helps regulate mood, but overactive pumps reduce serotonin levels, possibly leading to depressive symptoms in some people with Parkinson’s disease.”  Nevertheless,  it has been reported that there is no definite study showing a correlation or causation between Parkinson and depression.

Those with mental illness deserve better. The globe and mail stated, “It’s not just about the legacy of one actor; it’s about helping millions of people who may be less famous but just as important,” says Dr. David Gratzer,  Psychiatrist in Toronto,Canada.

If you or someone you know, may be at risk of committing suicide, please contact emergency services in your area to get professional advice.

 

 

Source:  National Institute of Mental Health 

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Contact:

  • UK:  Samaritans, call 08457 90 90 90

http://www.samaritans.org/

 

  • USA:  National Suicide Prevention, 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

  • CANADA : Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, 204-784-4073

http://suicideprevention.ca/

 

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