Robin Williams killed himself Monday morning. I learned about it from a message from the Washington Post on my phone as I was sitting on my couch watching the PBS Newshour Monday night. I sent two friends a brief email as soon as I learned. One wrote, “Yes he did not get the help he needed and where was his support??? It is very sad, but he is just one of the many who took their lives today. The others won’t make the news.” I think my friend was dismissive and may have viewed Williams’ unfortunate choice with harsh judgment because Robin Williams realized his dreams and had everything to live for, but with someone as famous and gifted as Williams it proves how devastating depression and addiction can be. I know a lot of people don’t understand why a person as accomplished and rich as Robin Williams would kill himself, but suicide isn’t logical. If it were, many of the clients of my local drop-in center would have died a long time ago.
That said, I think there’s merit to what my friend said. Even for famous, talented people serious mental illness wreaks havoc. It’s hell no matter who you are or what you have achieved. Even for artists and writers who don’t kill themselves serious mental illness can cripple. William Styron couldn’t do the thing he most loved for the last twenty-seven years of his life: writing novels. My hope is that Robin Williams’ suicide will teach the public about the signs of the risk for suicide before someone else’s tragic death occurs. My friend Jerry killed himself in anonymity, but for his friends and family it was devastating. It put me in the hospital. It’s not the same as a natural death or an accident. I hope Williams’ death doesn’t become some macabre spectacle instead of raising awareness. Genius and fame matter because of the opportunity to educate the public. Tragedy can be an opportunity.