What Robin Williams’ death can teach us

What Robin Williams’ death can teach us

Many were saddened by the sudden announcement Monday of the death of Robin Williams, 63, star of a seemingly endless string of hits, starting with “Mork & Mindy,” reaching through to “Dead Poets Society,” “Aladdin,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and his Oscar-winning role in “Good Will Hunting.”

The now-confirmed speculation that Williams’ death was the result of suicide brought added shock and sadness to the news—seemingly incomprehensible given the merry act and joyous face he put forward in so many of his roles.

“Many people may be thinking, ‘If it can happen to him—if he can be that deeply depressed—how can it not happen to me?’” says Dr. Shastri Swaminathan, psychiatrist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “Depression—even so deep it can cause suicidal thoughts—can happen to anyone.”

Depression can come from many sources, he says, including relationship troubles, major life changes and financial difficulties.

Dr. Swaminathan says it’s important for everyone to know the signs and symptoms of depression, encouraging friends and loved ones to consider seeking help, if needed.

  1. Changes in sleep, including insomnia and oversleeping
  2. Changes in appetite, unexpected weight loss
  3. Lack of concentration, focus
  4. Irritability, severe changes in mood
  5. Frequent absence from work or social activities
  6. Change in job performance

“These are the classic symptoms that may be noticed by a friend, family member or co-worker,” he says. “Clinically, in speaking with a patient, we also look for talk of crying spells and thoughts of hopelessness or helplessness.”

Depression is especially dangerous when it gets bad enough to cause suicidal thoughts, Dr. Swaminathan says.

“Anytime someone is expressing their feelings of sadness or depression in written form—notes, posts on Facebook or through text messages—intervention is critical,” he says. “They are announcing to the world that they’re going to hurt themselves. That’s when intervention is necessary.”

Dr. Swaminathan says other, serious signs to watch for that signal possible suicidal thoughts include:

  1. Continued withdrawal from social activities, non-communication, cutting off from even close family members and friends
  2. Resumption of heavy drinking
  3. Accumulation of unused pills that might suggest a loved one is contemplating suicide

“It’s important, if you think someone is depressed enough to be considering suicide, to have a conversation with them, to let them know they’re not alone and they can get the help they need,” he says. “Be supportive, but not intrusive.”

“Depression and other mental illnesses are still stigmatized, so many people don’t get the help they need in time,” Dr. Swaminathan says. “It’s important to let your loved ones who may be wrestling with depression know that treatments are often very successful and there is hope.”

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  1. Most of his movies defined my childhood. So sad but a good wake up call to this issue.

  2. Ernst Lamothe Jr August 13, 2014 at 9:31 am · Reply

    It does show you that you never know how someone is feeling on the inside no matter how they look on the outside.

  3. The saddest people smile the brightest because they don’t want to see anyone else suffer the way that they do.

  4. Vigilance is so key when dealing with someone who is seriously depressed. That said, we are quick to place unbearable responsibility on ourselves and others if we think we must have missed some behavior that might have indicated a friend or loved one’s intentions. At the end of the day this final act of despair is the decision of one who is afflicted with a terrible disease. We try to help, “be there”, support, assist, refer to professionals, or all of the above. We do our best to prevent a horrific outcome. But the “fault” is not ours if the very worst happens. That burden is simply too much to shoulder and not ours to bear. Love isn’t always enough and we must be able to say to ourselves “we did the best we could do.”

  5. I Loved Patch Adams & Awakenings

  6. Oh really? We have so many people with mental health issues and can’t afford to get help, I as one) and you wonder why people have depression.

    • Evelyn Applewhite September 6, 2014 at 7:16 am · Reply

      Denise I am so sad to read what you have written about expenses associated with getting mental health services. This blows my mind. Getting ample care here in this country is big business. If you don’t have the cash or excellent insurance you will have to settle for mediocre care which is a waste of time and waste of precious lives in some instances. This breaks my heart. This makes me feel as if I am living elsewhere in the world…..not in THE USA.

  7. My favorite Robin Williams movies are “Good Will Hunting” and “The World According to Garp” … it’s such a tremendous loss. Hopefully this tragic event will encourage someone struggling with depression to not suffer in silence, but to seek help.

  8. My kids are grown and still watch Aladdin (me, too!). We are all so very sad and hope this tragedy raises awareness and honesty about this serious issue.

  9. What’s even sadder and more perplexing is that, from the many accounts flooding the media, it was known that Robbin had many of those issues going on in his life for quite some time. Even his public admissions and the financial wherewithal to access rehab and therapy, he couldn’t seem to overcome his “demons”. We, the public, have seen this happen time and time again with celebrities which is clearly only a small percentage of those who face such life-threatening conditions. It really make one wonder just what it takes to effectively reach people who are residing in such a dark and painful place. My heart goes out to them and there families. I just wish that helped in some way.

  10. I was so sad when I heard the news he had died. But, I hope his death encourages people to bring this issue out into the open, making it less of a taboo topic so more people suffering from any kind of mental illness can feel comfortable getting the help they need.

  11. “C.K.” I agree wholeheartedly with your comments regarding this subject. Having experienced this situation in my own family, I can attest to the fact that no matter what you do, the ultimate decision is theirs to make. Loving them is not always enough and we must be able shake off the guilt families are left with and to say to ourselves “we did the best we could” and keep it moving.

  12. After knowing and one recognizes the person is suffering from depression what us the person or family members or friends to do to help. I know family can get a court order to get the person committed into the proper facility to be monitored until he or she is out of the danger zone. But no one is telling the people what they can do to actually help save the depressed person. So what is the answer? Recognizing is one thing but doing something about it is another. ??????

  13. Dorothy Singleton August 16, 2014 at 11:51 am · Reply

    I was very shock to here of Robin Williams death, I can remember him on Bird Cage and it was sooooooooooo funny that my stomach would hurt from laughing. I too have had my time with depression and was given medication to help me feel better. Guess what ! I didn’t take the medication, I started praying and asking God to help me. I feel much better. Depression still comes on me at time when I think about my mom whose decease, or when I think about working, haven”t worked in 5 years due to my health. I just want to encourage someone today and tell them to keep and staying close to God! He is with you when no one else is.

  14. Evelyn Applewhite September 6, 2014 at 7:23 am · Reply

    Yes Dorothy praying to THE GOD LORD who IS THE GREAT PHYSICIAN WILL HELP us with our illnesses. But remember not all patients follow their doctor’s advice. I am a believer and HE HAS HELPED ME AND IS STILL HELPING ME TO stay on top of things. All praises to HIM.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.