Robin Williams’ death now seems apparently a suicide, barring something so incredible only a movie could make sense of another reason, and now we as a society must figure out what to do with such a painful and profound loss. I see his death truly as a fork in the road for how to not only handle mental health, but, what to prepare for if my concern has any merit too many in this country really have little hope and faith as of today.
Williams was not someone I ever considered committing suicide. Not that I am surprised of his struggles with a mood disorder and ongoing risks for relapse of his substance issues, but, he had such a strong and committed circle of family and friends, that really is protective more often than not. Plus, he played so many roles in movies that had some element of mental health topics to them, mostly portrayed as supportive of healthy and responsible choices, I can’t imagine he would abandon those messages.
I know from his rants in his stand up routines and veiled comments about mental health in public interviews I have caught over the years he was not a fan of mental health care, certainly not medications, but, I think he had the common sense to seek out care when the going got tough. That was his M.O. throughout the last 30 years, again from what I have learned from what he and others responsible have revealed. I know we as observers/bystanders have to wait and find out what those who know the truth and facts will reveal to us, but, if there was a note written by him before he died, I really hope that is made public sooner than later. The country needs some level of closure as much as his family and friends.
And one reason I hope there is some revelation to his choice is my sincere concern his death could have serious repercussions for the public. People in general are looking at this death as “if someone like Robin Williams who had a lot in so many ways gave up, why should I stick it out?”
I found this link today to offer as a start why people SHOULD NOT think that way:
“I find it harder, however, not to focus to some extent on his death. We live in a celebrity culture, like it or not. It means that around the world in coming days, people will be talking about this terrible event, reflecting not just on his career, but on the reality of the illness which led him to his death. He will forever be remembered for his acting and comedic skills, and the films are there for all time for future generation to enjoy. But I hope too that he will be remembered as someone whose death was another staging post in the changing attitudes to mental health and mental illness which are desperately required all around the world.”
and this from there as well, “I am lucky to have a supportive and understanding family, a small number of good friends, and a doctor I trust. When finally we spoke, he put me on anti-depressants, and I have been on them ever since, which is the longest period I have ever been on them. The many people I have met since, over the past twelve months, would have no idea, and it is not something I would broadcast unless asked – I t0ok a decision after my breakdown in 1986 always to be open.”
Please, read the whole link, it is exactly what I want to say to any of you reading here to not only get a mental health perspective about understanding the loss of a special person in our society, but, to truly find the silver lining in a terrible loss. Depression is treatable, has a better endpoint from treatment, not just from medications mind you, but from the whole mental health treatment process. Over 70% of people who actively and consistently participate in mental health, even if follow ups are less frequent over time, achieve sizeable resolution of symptoms if not experience remission. And yet, what are the numbers for improving illnesses like hypertension and diabetes, even if caught relatively early, about 50% at best.
Note I do not say “cure” in treating depression and mental health issues in general, a terrible and misleading four letter word in mental health. If your remission lasts for the rest of your life, then I guess you are cured at that point. gee, the same expectation with cancer. But, you certainly don’t want a relapse of cancer, so why not approach illnesses like depression the same way?
Besides writing this post to try to motivate people find hope and faith from this story, I also write it to put the abolitionists/antipsychiatry ilk front and center for their overall attitude that not only psychiatry should not exist, but, they allude that not only should people have the right to commit suicide, it is WRONG to try to intervene and help people who are suicidal. Well, let’s hope some learning about mental health and ways to help people really see and hear the message of the antipsychiatry crowd. Gee, being abandoned and minimized is their way of population control, I guess. Oh, they will attack this post and try to spin it that I as a psychiatrist am the evil one, that my treatment ONLY hurts and kills, but, I offer people look up the defense mechanism of “projection” and see if it fits their narrative. I guess abandoning people who are suicidal is so helpful and constructive, eh???
Unfortunately, I have to write further here with something I found so heinous and rude, I do so to try to minimize the legitimate fallout the antipsychiatry crowd could rail about, it was this absurd and ridiculous comment within a post by a colleague:
Already there are psychiatrists out there trying to take advantage of Robin Williams, let’s face it, being trotted out on cable shows is not about education when we don’t have the facts, but, these doctors just don’t know when to shut up and keep it general and respectful. Well, I am sure some will, but, this column is such a disgrace!
It started out fairly well, and then Dr Ablow wrote something so stupid, it ends any realism of being beneficial for me once I read this:
‘I have now treated a few thousand people with depression. I have lost not a single one to suicide while under my care.”
Wow, what a revelation. Either he has cherry picked his patients from day one of his residency and bucked odds that make it likely you would hit Power Ball AND get hit by lightning at the same moment, or, he is lying or manipulating facts to make it sound like anyone who killed themselves while he was a treating psychiatrist wasn’t his patient anymore at the time of death.
Honest and grounded psychiatrists can never claim this if providing clinical care for several years at least. I have had some patients commit suicide while I was treating them, more of them who left care but still were my patients even if not set up for a follow up when they died. How disingenuous a comment by Dr Ablow. Really takes what could be a good post and just flattens it, for me at least.
He is completely on the mark with this comment though:
“This scourge affected 17 – 20 million adults in the last year alone. Suicide is epidemic now. And our mental health care system is in ruins, so unable to respond that cities are spending tens of millions to build safety nets under their bridges to catch those who attempt to jump to their deaths.”
And this is why I implore you as the public, don’t let politicians set the pace for care for mental health, they will screw it up further than that shambles they have gotten away with til now.
And don’t let the dissenters for mental health care convince you that ALL of psychiatry, much less ALL of mental health care in general, is bad and ruinous. There are bad people out there masquerading as clinicians and providers, but, if you really believe the dissenter/antipsychiatry/abolitionist message, then we need to get rid of our police next.
Robin Williams in his role in “The World’s Greatest Dad” said this, “Remember, suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.” Whether it is irony or pure coincidence, before that movie came out, I have been saying to patients my version for many years, “SUICIDE IS A TERMINAL SOLUTION TO TEMPORARY PROBLEMS”. The real irony is it is shame Robin Williams did not put that line he said somewhere where he would see it every day the past couple of weeks/months.
The link to relate the above quote for interested readers:
Well, I have rambled, and I hope readers will consider my point of view and give much thought, and remember this line from a M*A*S*H episode when Hawkeye prevented an underaged soldier from going back to fighting, when Hawkeye was told his interference was terrible by saying “I hate you, and I will hate you for the rest of my life!”
Which Hawkeye retorts so beautifully, “Well, let’s hope it is a long and healthy hate.”
Stopping someone from killing him/herself is worth the hate, because it will, until proven otherwise, like a Phoenix rise from the ashes and become something beautiful and loving once again. Hopefully. I won’t say every single time there is no reason for suicide, But, you listen to the psychiatry abolitionists, they think random chance is 95% of the time, not 5%. They learned statistics in the graveyard, not class!
Be safe, be well, and be hopeful!
Joel Hassman, MD
addendum Aug 14 12 Noon: Ah, Mad In America does not dissapoint:
A bit long of an excerpt, but I have to put it all in for readers to see the depth, and that is the operative word here, “Depth”, as they as a collective at MIA have to take a tragedy and spin it to make care even more despicable, even though they know as much as I do about his death as of today:
“But no, that’s not what makes me saddest right now. For what it’s worth, here are five things that make me sadder than Robin Williams’ suicide:
- People getting ‘treatment’ in the mental health system die, on average, about 25 years younger than others in the community. According to several sources, the average life expectancy for men in the United States is around 77 years. Robin Williams died at 63. That gives him about 11 years of life above and beyond the average person being ‘served’ in the mental health system. I realize this is an imperfect statistic, but meaningful nonetheless. (It’s even more meaningful when we consider that much evidence seems to point to non-medicalized approaches as leading to substantially better outcomes for people who are experiencing life-interrupting emotional distress.)
- People are diagnosing Robin Williams posthumously and calling it undeniable truth. This may seem a relatively minor point, and it would be… if not for the fact that people are so commonly diagnosed against their will and in a way that is used as justification for forced or coerced treatment on an extraordinarily regular basis. This is the same ‘treatment’ that leads to the 25-years-younger figure noted above.
- People who die in their fifties whilst seated firmly in the palm of the mental health system often do so in over-medicated hazes that have left them isolated and unable to do much more than sit around and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. Consider this in juxtaposition to Williams’ rather full life that included children, wives, friends, multiple homes and a career.
- A growing number of people appear to have killed themselves precisely because of the mental health ‘treatment’ they have received. Some of them weren’t even suicidal before they got on the psychiatric drugs that directly preceded their self-inflicted deaths. We’re talking kids, in a lot of instances. Williams had over 40 years of life on many of them. (And, by the way, I think the jury is still out on exactly how ‘treatment’ or psych drugs might have been used or impacted Williams himself.)
- Robin Williams’ suicide is being manipulated as an opportunity to push more ‘treatment’ as usual. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen comments on-line from people saying, “I hope news of Robin Williams’ mental illness will go viral, if it will mean that more people get treatment,” or, “If only he’d been on medication, he’d still be alive…” Most of them don’t quite realize the potential harm they’re doing or the mythifying misinformation they’re spreading. And then there’s the standard cast of characters – people like Tim Murphy – who are wholeheartedly, knowingly and opportunistically jumping on his death to push forward their force-laden, rights violating agendas. Let’s make no mistake, here. People are using the death of a man who claims to never have even been formally diagnosed to push mental health ‘treatment’ on countless individuals in spite of the fact that said ‘treatment’ seems to be leading to even earlier deaths than Williams’ own, skyrocketing disability rates and overall poor outcomes. Perfect.
I don’t want to minimize Robin Williams’ death. It is awful (though, no more or less awful than most any other suicide). He was an undeniable talent, and at least seemed like an overall good guy. His family must be devastated and they are more than entitled to their grief (and privacy). Yet, his death should not be used to dwarf, camouflage, or distract us from the much broader problems in our culture. It should not be used against his postmortem will to sell more drugs or the concept of ‘mental illness’ (which is, of course, used to sell more drugs).”
Yeah, she doesn’t want to minimize Williams’s death, just use it as a disingenuous poster boy for a corrupt cause in generalities. This site is so pathetic, and the usual suspects who just write the garbage they spew are nothing less than disgusting.
Sure, they are entitled to opinion, but, that is what they are, opinions. They write it like gospel though. Hey MIA, what goes around comes around, will you be ducking soon?!
Addendum 5PM: how desperate are the abolitionists to tie in meds to Williams’death? Keep reading the thread from the above link to this addendum from today at Noon, now they are claiming his Parkinsons disease issue, that WIlliams’ wife has noted in a statement this afternoon, is due to meds.
Watch the desperation of people who have to maintain the narrative, facts and reality be damned! If it turns out Williams was not on meds at the time of his death, which we still DO NOT KNOW, here’s the next bet: it was meds he was on YEARS ago that made him suicidal this past couple of weeks.
Hate, it just makes you twisted, eh?