Just when we decide not to turn on the news to avoid hearing more about the horrors in the Middle East, we hear about the death of one of our very own well known comedic actors — someone who might not be everybody’s favorite, since he was known for a tad of raunchy humor now and again, funny as it might have been—but someone nonetheless who brought smiles and insight into our lives with his stand up comedy and movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire; Good Morning Vietnam; Patch Adams, Dead Poets Society, and so many others.
Yes, we heard the news today: Robin Williams dead at 63! Apparently a suicide. The announcer reminded us of his made-public bouts with drugs and alcohol, likely following his bouts of perhaps deep, dark and not so fully shared depression. I cannot just let that part of it go without comment. Here was a man who had a lovely wife — and very possibly a happy marriage (although I certainly can’t know about that); he had a fulfilling lifetime career — even several different aspects of a career in a field that worked so well for him, and probably all the money he could ever want as a result of that career — and yet he was depressed. And yet he felt the need to soften his pain with alcohol and drugs. And yet, with so much of everything, he still felt the need to end his life.
Here was a man who could have bought the best treatments possible for his addictions and his pain. Here was a man who was loved by so many people around the world, and had a loving partner right in his own home. Here was a man who could have kept someone at his side to help him get past those dark feelings and dark hours, yet apparently was not seen between 10 p.m. and when he was found just before noon the next day, alone and already gone.
What in the world would it take to overcome depression if one were in Robin’s shoes? We may never know all the details of what brought Williams to that state of affairs, since people who are thinking and feeling that way are probably not able to clearly put their thoughts into proper or comprehensible words. Maybe he thought he was not as good as he was; maybe he thought he was about to lose something he cherished; maybe his fortune was slipping away; maybe a thousand things. But the bottom line is he felt it was what he had to do, and he did it. And he is not the only celebrity who has gone down that sad and rocky road.
In my own circle of family, friends, and acquaintances, several people have committed suicide, and several others have desired to or even attempted to. The first one I remember who felt inclined to do that was my younger sister’s boyfriend, when they were in high school. He was depressed because she wasn’t interested in him any more and he took up a small plane and crashed it. Then there was a girlfriend of mine from nursing school who did the deed because she was pregnant without benefit of a husband and couldn’t bear the shame; and the brother of a business co-worker/partner of mine, who had just been to the office the very day before, in his usual fashion, and never let on one bit what was in his mind.
I’ve had family members threaten to do the deed, and another friend’s husband who attempted it, but it didn’t work, leaving him with permanent damage. And there were others. All of them were depressed.
Would anything have been different if we only knew? Robin’s family knew about his depression, and they had resources, and it still couldn’t be stopped.
Depression is no joke. It is all around us and is no laughing matter.
And it doesn’t have to be “the end of the world” kind of thing that causes those feelings; it is not for us to judge what sends someone over the edge. Since we know depression is practically on every corner and in every family, we would do well to watch for the signs, or at least listen to the sounds of silence or actual words that indicate a person’s pain or depression. We can learn how to deal with it, when to call in help, when to suggest it might need treatment or medication. We can be sure to offer our “ear” and our time to such a one, which might be that person’s saving grace.
Another friend of mine from long ago once told me that he never felt love from his mother and father and had no reason for living. He had no love, no job, no purpose, and not even any circle of friends. Yet somehow he was telling me all that, so he must have had me. I took it upon myself to find him a job, which led to his purpose, and helped him to understand the love of a friend. He went on to find happiness in his work and eventually got married and had a family.
Remaining alive is not the whole purpose behind not committing suicide. Finding a purpose and finding some measure of happiness seem to be pretty near the top. Keeping the family together and not giving them any reason to feel guilt and regret and pain over your taking your own life is a big thing to throw into the mix.
We really do have enough ready-made misery in this world and even not listening to the news is not going to keep it from our door. We need more cheering up, more laughter, more loving gestures that will put and keep smiles on our faces and in our hearts.
We need to tune in to our brothers and sisters around us and ask if we can help. Sometimes a few minutes of our time is all it might take. To show we care. To listen. To give a little encouragement. To suggest they see their doctor. To offer to go with them. To let them call you if they feel the need to talk. The suicide of a loved one should never be the news of the day.
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.