Suicide is a lesson in Connection

Stay Connected – Suicide is a lesson in Connection

I continue to see many thoughts and reactions to the suicide death of famous actor, Robin Williams.  I’ve spoken with friends and read many of the writings.  Is he “free” now?   Could yoga have helped?  Was it the Parkinson’s, the alcohol abuse, the gift of being insanely talented?  Was he in his right, rational mind when he did this?  Did he have clarity? I know you will all have your opinions.  And I would love to hear them.  My own research points to the necessity of connection in our society, or the lack of it.

The fact is, we will never exactly know what a person is thinking, feeling or believing when they decide to take their own life. We also cannot exact where they are  afterwards- does the body just die, are they in some sort of purgatory, are they floating around in white light?!   It’s all speculation, really.  I have my own view and it’s closer to the white light theory, but one of the best interviews I’ve read accounts for some raw emotion from Robin Williams with the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead:

“I was in a small town where it’s not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going fuck, maybe that will help. And it was the worst thing in the world.” What did he feel like when he had his first drink? “You feel warm and kind of wonderful. And then the next thing you know, it’s a problem, and you’re isolated.”

Some have suggested it was [Christopher] Reeve’s death that turned him back to drink. “No,” he says quietly, “it’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.” What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”

In 1997 I was studying Social Work in graduate school, at the University of WI – Madison, with a focus on psychology and severe and persistent mental illness. I received the Debra Beebe Scholarship award personally from author, Anne Deveson.  She wrote the book, “Tell me I’m Here.”  She discussed the difficulty she had in finding help for her son, a schizophrenic and drug user.  He ended up dying.

She later established support for other families who underwent the same terror as well as lack of support in the community and wrote many other books and was awarded by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.  In an interview with ABC in 2004, Anne said this of religion and resilience,

“It’s a believe in life itself, but it’s also a belief in something beyond life. I think there are numinous experiences. I think there are times when we can glimpse a profundity beneath life that we don’t understand. I think it is that connectedness of life, of us the individual to life and to the universe in which we live. It’s our connectedness to that enormous mystery that now physicists are beginning to nibble at. Scientists are beginning to nibble at, but still in a fairly reductionist way. Although I think quantum physics is now opening up some of that mystery for us. And I find it just an extraordinary adventure. So I don’t want to die for that reason.”

Connection.   I heard this again.  Here is Russell Brand speaking of the same type of connectedness needed, Robin Williams: What Should We Think? Russell Brand? He says, “There must be something wrong with the world if the world cannot accommodate Robin Williams.”  The best part starts at 5 minutes, 9 seconds.

The issue of lack of support and connectedness for our most fragile go back thousands of years, and in modern day America and across the World, it appears to just get worse from a political and socioeconomic standpoint.

When I worked in the mental health field in the early 1990’s we had excellent support for services in the community.  They weren’t perfect, but they were seamless and I physically checked on persons living with schizophrenia and major depression in their homes – to ensure things like suicide weren’t an option in the minds of my clients.  The economic support abruptly stopped for community mental health in the 1990’s and again in 2009-2011.   This has left persons without adequate support, and much times, without empathy.

The government isn’t too blame though.  As Robin said above, some mental health is choice and persons can behave selfishly.  We don’t want to hear that fact, but it’s true.  Yet, it’s that very fine line between choice and illness taking over.  There’s plenty of recent research on the difference between free will and mental disorder and Robin William’s suicide is what has us all questioning the blurry line.

Regardless of the details, we are still left with the questions of what can be done, how to improve the lives of our families, friends, and future generations.  Where do we turn?  How can we help?  How can we connect?

Little miracles happen when we decide to open up and find what we need.  It’s a signal that persons want to reach out. As much as we complain about facebook and other social media, we have really been given, or perhaps created with our consciousness, gifts of technology to further connect.  As reported by the Washington Post:

  • NAMI’s Facebook page typically reaches 91,000 people a day. On Tuesday, it was 1.1 million, and direct messages from people offering support has increased five-fold.
  • NAMI’s You Are Not Alone Tumblr, where people can post stories, has exploded with posts and shares, which both increased 10 times.
  • The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which has chapters and support groups across the country, has also been abuzz with activity, said president Allen Doederlein. People are more frequently sharing their stories with each other, Doederlein said, while their Facebook page has had a nearly 500 percent increase of unique users this week.

Indeed, the connections are happening.  Robin Williams, perhaps you left more of an influence than you knew possible.  You made us think about connection.

7 Replies to “Suicide is a lesson in Connection”

  1. A most informative and really comforting article. As a person with multiple diagnoses, I can tell you that compared to the 70’s when I first was diagnosed as a teenager(my illnesses were with me long before) we are doing much better to address this problem. I agree with you re. social media as it was key to me finally at the ripe old age of 55, reaching a positive sense of self and real happiness! Thank you for writing this! It’s a great service!

  2. Thank you for your compassionate article. I had a family member who committed suicide and I got tired of everyone’s expert opinion where there was no expertise. No one really knows what goes through a person head when they follow through ending their life, and no one should give there uneducated view if they have not experienced a loved one who has committed suicide. We just need to love the survivors and keep opinions to ourselves.

  3. Such a sad loss. It truly is difficult to know what was going on but I think we try because of our longing for hope and purposefulness. Also, our country has a very taboo way of looking at mental illness that will need to change before some things get better.

  4. thanks for this post… you are so right that social media can connect us in new ways and love the recent statistics that you have provided. It is comforting to imagine that Robin’s tragic and untimely death is helping others. I agree that connection is a fundamental need and hopefully more people begin to find the support that they need.

  5. Great information. Tragedies like this inspire a lot of deep thought and it is a very uncomfortable and controversial topic in many places. I truly believe that no matter what the situation, that there is power in numbers, and social media is a place that many can connect and see that they are not alone. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Wow! great post! It’s true the world is struggling with William’s suicide. As Russell stated “There must be something wrong with the world if the world cannot accommodate Robin Williams.” It makes a common person think that if someone as talented and great as Robin Williams took his life, what help can there be for others? I also like how you remind us that “Little miracles happen when we decide to open up and find what we need.” each day is a new day and for me personally, I wish the Robin or anyone who lost his/her life to suicide would take a moment to see a miracle rather than chose to send one.

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