This week has been a sad week for many fans who loved Robin Williams from afar, who loved his humour, his films and his spirit. It has been an especially difficult week for those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide. Every week is difficult, but this week we have been bombarded with articles in the media about depression and suicide, the aftermath of the shock of discovering that someone who made a living making people laugh was so sad inside that he would take drastic action to escape his pain.
His wife, children, family and friends are now left with a life sentence of pain and a million questions that all start with the word ‘Why?’ If he had died after a long battle with cancer there would be tributes and outpouring of grief as well, but we would not be asking ‘Why?’ We wouldn’t feel so shocked and the sense of tragedy would not be so intense.
I, like many others, am very sad that a light has gone out, but this morning I also found myself immensely thankful that the death of such a high profile person has finally got the world talking about suicide and this terrible illness that we still know so little about. Ultimately the legacy of Robin Williams’s death will save lives. If it makes one man pick up the phone and ask for help, if it rouses people into action when they learn about the shocking statistics and how little is being done to combat this disease, then his death will not have been in vain.
I am not saying that his death is a good thing, it is not, it is a tragedy but if in the aftermath it can help raise awareness and be a catalyst for change then he will have left two legacies, one of laughter and happiness and one of more understanding and help for people plagued with hopelessness and depression, especially men.
Suicide is not cowardly or selfish, it happens when a person’s desire to end their pain results in them taking drastic action to end that pain. They do not have the ability to reason or anticipate the pain they will leave behind as in that state their mind is altered so all they can see is a compulsion to end their suffering and they may even believe that by doing so they are ending the pain they are causing others.
I am no expert, but I do know the statistics are shocking. If 5,900 people died from an illness every year in the UK and doctors could do nothing to treat it, then there would be outrage. The majority of those are men.
As a society we need to educate our children, especially our young men that it is normal to have problems, to feel hopeless sometimes and that is it perfectly OK to talk about it and seek help, just as you would if you had a fever or a rash or a big lump on your body.
My son was not abnormal, he was not a freak, he was not selfish or cowardly, he was a young man that did not know how to get help, or where to turn, and as a parent that is the only thing I feel guilty about, that I did not equip him with those skills. But why would I because I was blissfully unaware when I waved him off to University that he was more likely to die from suicide than anything else. I should have known that.
In a strange turn of events, I am off to University in September and if I see anyone I think is struggling to cope I will talk to them and encourage them to seek help, either from a University counsellor or from another organisation that can signpost them towards help.
So let’s thank Robin Williams for the legacy he left, remember his life and hope that his death will be a catalyst for a sea change in society towards depression and suicide.