Out of tragedy can come change: the other legacy left by Robin Williams

RobinThis 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.

 

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2 Responses to Out of tragedy can come change: the other legacy left by Robin Williams

  1. Lori Robinson says:

    Anne- you always seem to know what to say and your blog is the only suicide related one I read &/or comment on! Yes, here in Calif, the shock waves of Robin Williams’ shocking death, by suicide, is everywhere. Of course since he was such a world-renowned comedian icon, the world as you see has been saddened. A man with genius gifts, who spent decades entertaining his fellow humans would exit in such a horrific way. I, like many, am sickened by the graphic details released from the Sheriff’s Dept in No. Calif. and read a statement from the Sheriff’s officials in the San Francisco Bay Area “the agency would have liked to have withheld some of the info, but could not under the Ca Public Records Act”. Some people are complaining the level of details was too much. Gee, I wonder if we Americans have just crossed the line here. As I heard the graphic details yesterday while driving on the 101 freeway, I just was so grateful my son, only 25 at the shocking time of his death, was not a well-known celebrity like Williams. It’s enough for all of us, in these tragic circumstances to lose our brightest stars, our “kids”, but imagine if the details surrounding their death was strewn across every website, social media for the world to hear!!!! I just cried inside for Williams’ family and friends to have to be dragged further down emotionally from such disrespectful, unnecessary gory info that the public should not be privy to. I sure hope some legislator in CA recognizes the insensitivity and works to change this law.

    But you are so correct, Anne. Robin Williams’ suicide will hopefully bring needed attention to the truth it is mostly males that have such gripping depression which ends, so shockingly, so horrifically, in suicide. (I’ve read that more women attempt suicide but men take more violent ways to die, so succeed far more.)

    As I read about Williams’ death on Monday, my instant thought was finally- society may now realize the ones that suicide are not just folks who are chronically depressed, non-functional melancholy individuals. I think the truth, my son, and I am assuming Toby, as well, were two young men in the prime of their lives when they embarked into adulthood. I don’t know enough about Toby from what you’ve shared but my son, Shane, was bigger-than-life, extremely charismatic, had countless friends and upon his death, 5 of his friends insisted to me that Shane was their best friend. How could one young guy be best friends to five people?!! The video that some friends posted on You-Tube on Oct 4, 2012, which should have been Shane’s 26th b-day the 15 min video shows Shane’s big, infectious smile throughout. Shane was funny, silly, loved people, and had a special softness toward dogs and babies. I used to think about what a great daddy my first-born would be as he gravitated toward little ones from very early age on. (Maybe, since his kid brother came on the scene when Shane was 4 1/2 years old it was because he loved being the big brother!!!).

    So for my kid to hit such depression, and than suicide, something surely happens to these young guys to trigger such emotional crises. I will forever believe that these young kids do not realize that some of their young, developing brains (till age 25 or older) are still maturing. For some of them, and Shane was surely one, their “experimenting” with recreational substances ultimately tweaks their brains into altered chemical pathways which sets up depression and worse. The peer pressure in today’s world for our kids is something fierce. My husband and I, both college educ professionals, thankfully never fell into the party scene during our days away at the university. We thought we prepared our sons to be sure never to go near the slippery slope of using substances and I, personally, feel I failed my son because after high school, he did get involved with a young woman, and some friends, who did use cannabis ( and I realize some other substances but cannabis was the most common drug of choice). And sadly, before my son knew something was altering his normal brain health, it really was too late. And the rest of this story is just way too sad but 2 months after Shane had just married his long-time girlfriend (we, his family, had NO idea they were using illicit substances and she, a college educ, straight A student with no tattoos, and such an eloquent presence who could believe they had been “recreationally” using cannabis, mostly) until my son, age 23, suffered his first psychotic ‘episode’).

    If something positive can come from such the sadness about Robin Williams death, I hope it will help recognize that people need to not be afraid to share their feelings and yes, suicidal thoughts are emotions too. in the U.S. the problem as I have learned is if a person is having dark thoughts and in honest about them, they will be carted off to the local psych ward for “care” (if you’ve ever been inside a locked ward in the U.S. that me assure you it would be the LAST place any of us would want to be and the “treatment” leaves much to be desired (especially considering how in the U.S. now 1 in 5 (20%) are being labeled and diagnosed as “mentally ill” (talk about stigma and being given hopeless diagnoses these days). So, instead of having places that people who are really really hurting, and so desperate to stop their psych pain and discuss openly and honestly their feelings and deepest darkest thoughts, there is no where for these people, like our sons as they surely were battling to stay alive before they chose to leave us, but where does someone with these emotions go? Anyone in this time of war with themselves can’t even talk to a therapist/counselor about what they are really thinking? How crazy is this world? I know a few places in America that are recognizing the importance and value of having places for people in such a fragile, emotional state to go. I know 3rd world countries have less incidence of “mental illness” and likely it is the way they have alternative MH “treatments” including shamanism for healing. I know by the rising stats of suicide, as you and I so sadly learned first-hand because we lost our sons, we in the westernized countries apparently do not have any good solutions for what is becoming an epidemic of deaths by suicide. Let us hope that one of the other legacies Robin Williams’ can be known for is his shining a bright light on a very dark topic and ways to combat such a taboo.

    So, I believe my son, like Williams’ (who has battled for years with drug use and depression with 20 years of sobriety in-between) had brain changes so catastrophic to them the end result was suicide. LIke you Anne, who wish you could have better equipped Toby to have been able to reach out and talk about his feelings and ask for help. I, too, wish I could have empowered Shane as well. But sometimes, in my limited view, I think the brain changes can be so great, it loses the ability to reach out for help. For me, I hope education throughout the world, especially to our young, can begin because kids need to know there are serious, and sometimes, fatal consequences for certain young brains that “experiment” with substances.

    And I appreciate the family of Robin Williams that commented to please remember the way he lived his life by making others laugh and be lifted up rather than the way he died. Yes, the summation of ones life should reflect the way they lived their live rather than how they died. Shane was a source of light for so many years, that is what I hope people remember about my son.

  2. Lani says:

    Taking your life is never the answer but yet they do cause they can’t find anyway out of the pain, suffering and maybe shame that they would cause their families and themselves! My daughter took her life in February of this year, it’s been 6 months and the pain and the grief is still strong as ever! It will never be easy! But they would want us to go on and live and remember them in our hearts and in our minds forever! My prayers go out to Robins family and you all find peace one day! Now fly with my daughter and the rest of the angels Robin, they well all love your laughter and comedy up there!!!

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