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Robin Williams depression. Was he wrong to commit suicide?

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Robin Williams depression
Why have so many taken to readily criticizing Robin William’s suicide as selfish?

Even before Robin Williams had taken his own life the actor had been remarkably candid about the fact about the fact that he was afflicted and had spent years wrestling his demons which had manifested themselves in alcohol and cocaine abuse.

Nevertheless since Robin Williams suicide there have been some who have criticized the actor (chiefly Fox’s Shep Smith) for choosing to take his own life which on some level belies society’s misunderstanding and discomfort with mental disease and depression. Which is to suggest we live in a society where we are constantly reminded we can have it all and if we don’t it’s just a matter of keep trying and to remain chipper until things finally come your way.

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Reflects the UK’s guardian: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; dismissing the concerns of a genuine depression sufferer on the grounds that you’ve been miserable and got over it is like dismissing the issues faced by someone who’s had to have their arm amputated because you once had a paper cut and it didn’t bother you. Depression is a genuine debilitating condition, and being in “a bit of a funk” isn’t. The fact that mental illness doesn’t receive the same sympathy/acknowledgement as physical illness is oftenreferenced, and it’s a valid point. If you haven’t had it, you don’t have the right to dismiss those who have/do. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative, but there are decades’ worth of evidence saying you’re wrong.

Yet that too raises the argument how could someone with so much going for them, possibly feel depressed to the point of suicide? With all the money/fame/family/success they have, to be depressed makes no sense?

Yet here is what we ought to understand about mental disease and depression- it is illogical and deeply persona. What may seem manageable or reasonable to one person may in fact be all together unfathomable and unmanageable to another. Involved in such assessments are the fact that we all arrive at life with different experiences, challenges, setbacks, proclivities and understandings. How one gets through life is often a confluence of all of the above which is to say there is no necessary right or wrong about how one goes about things and how they especially understand, perceive or relate to life- it is a deeply personal challenge.

Yet if we take the step back and begin to ask what depression really is and why it leaves those of us afflicted with it unable to fathom certain life experiences we ought to not offer moral judgements but our sympathy and compassion, remembering that life is a deeply personal experience and how one person takes on challenges and setbacks is often conditional on their own setbacks, challenges, experiences and importantly their very own personal perceptions. The key here though is the fact that perception and understanding of life can never always be logical but in the beholder of the individual, even if it may appear to an outsider as completely and utterly illogical.

Which is to say when we as a society deem an individuals act of suicide as selfish what are we really saying about that person’s particular experiences and perceptions and are we in some way forcing our own views, experiences, judgements, understanding and perceptions of life that can only logically belong to ourselves? And more importantly are we further condemning an individual caught in a quagmire for the very fact that they are caught in a quagmire?

Reflects the guardian: The “selfish” accusation also often implies that there are other options the sufferer has, but has chosen suicide. Or that it’s the “easy way out”. There are many ways to describe the sort of suffering that overrides a survival instinct that has evolved over millions of years, but “easy” isn’t an obvious one to go for. Perhaps none of it makes sense from a logical perspective, but insisting on logical thinking from someone in the grips of a mental illness is like insisting that someone with a broken leg walks normally; logically, you shouldn’t do that.

If we accept the notion that depression doesn’t make one think logically, or automatically confide in friends and family what service are we then providing to those afflicted and to any one of us who could find ourselves in deep existential despair or in the throes of mental anguish the accusation that they are anything less the assertion that somehow such an individual is flawed? By the very definition of being depressed or mentally ill one can not expect to judge such an individual to being capable of behaving in a way that most members of society deem appropriate.

Sometimes the reality is that an individual can indeed be highly intelligent, successful, talented and at the same time equally afflicted and morose and consumed with illogical oppressing thoughts, which by definition is why they are depressed in the first place. We ought not as a society condemn such individuals and if we claim we are more moral, more logical (and to what degree?) we should then be able to step outside of our own egos, insecurities and understand that life is indeed full of absurdity, irrationality and that in the end only the individual can make light of day should they choose to or able to.

above image found here

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  • just a guest

    The selfish ones are the people who call the suicidal person selfish. They are selfish because they want the one afflicted with depression to live for them so they won’t have to suffer. They are not the ones suffering from a mental disorder.

  • CD Cross

    I wouldn’t say your advice has much merit.

  • Jack Strawb

    Yeah. God. You’re a big help.

  • Jack Strawb

    It’s a mistake, I think, to believe that all depression can be treated. When we believe that we’re underestimating how genuinely horrifying life can be. Sometimes there simply isn’t treatment.

    It’s also an error to believe that all depression is a mental health issue. Some of it is surely a philosophical matter.

  • Bev Mabry

    Depression (and other ‘mental health’ issues) can be devastating, and, sadly, health care experts do not have complete understanding yet of the best ways to treat Depression. I’ve had bouts myself, and it’s mysterious and frustrating, and it’s almost impossible to show up at all, much less show up being any particular way. Popular spirituality of folks like Wayne Dyer tell us we have total control – baloney – others tell us we “should” merely “think positive” which is impossible when in the depths of a severe bout of Depression; it’s all you can do to just hang in there. I seriously wish our society would take Depression seriously – and treat all mental health issues as the valid health issues which they are. We spend more money housing our stray pets than dealing with mental health issues of living people.

  • J.K. Riki

    That makes sense. Thanks for the response. I see what you mean, and yes, we definitely need to go from “cast-aside judgement and finger wagging” type comments to truly understanding it. I think it’s a good idea at the same time as that’s happening to be sure we don’t give the act any sort of accidental praise, too, and make sure anyone pre-depression doesn’t see it as a blameless or somehow perversely heroic act. I’m sure for some, even myself, I see how much love Robin is getting after the fact and it can lead to thinking “If I was gone this would show others to appreciate me.” And that’s where it becomes very dangerous. Thanks for helping me understand a bit more! I appreciate it.

  • JK I would also discourage any person from pursuing suicide, but I think the brunt of the article is not to condone suicide, but for us on the outside of those who are going through mental illness, depression and who may even contemplate suicide to simply understand the vulnerable state of mind and place that they are in and to never judge them for it or demean them or force them to see the world from our logical ‘sane’ perspective as we may see it.

    Everyone feels the world and themselves differently from the next and it is I believe our lot as a compassionate responsible society to recognize mental illness and depression and by doing so we may assist the afflicted to step out of the quagmire that ails them…

  • J.K. Riki

    I don’t want to get into an argument here. Again: I am in no way arguing. I merely don’t understand and am trying to understand. I’m just asking for clarification.

    I’m not clear on the perspective of suicide being anything except selfish. Now, in saying that I’m not condemning anyone of anything. It’s not my place to condemn or to judge. I’m just trying to “get” how suicide isn’t a selfish act. You are ending your own suffering, which yes it is indeed terrible suffering, and in choosing that path you push even more suffering onto those left behind. Suffering that will last them a lifetime, likely longer than you would naturally live. It is your own escape that is important to you, not the well being of anyone else. How is that anything except selfish? Doesn’t that pretty much define selfish?

    I’m not diminishing anyone’s suffering. Having dealt with depression in my life I know how horrific of a place it can be. Not “paper cut” depression, but the sort of deep darkness that, given different choices, would cause serious consequences. It’s an awful, terrible place that I wish upon no one. In that mindset things are blurry and I’ve learned the very best thing I can do is make ZERO decisions, because I am emotionally and mentally compromised. The thing that keeps me from ever fully conceptualizing the path of suicide IS the knowledge of how selfish it is. It is the knowledge that I have no right to do that to someone else, everyone around me. I’ve been on the other side of someone deciding to put their desires before anyone else’s and it leading to their own death, and it is one of the most miserable things one can probably imagine for those who aren’t dead. I can’t fathom putting that on someone else, being the cause of that level of horror for my own personal relief. To me it’s the most selfish thing you can do, because there’s no fixing it afterward. If you wrong someone but continue to breathe, there is possibility of repentance, forgiveness, and healing. Killing yourself, though by no means an “easy” anything, is certainly personally less difficult after the fact than living with depression so that others will not suffer in inconceivable ways. And it is that belief and ridiculously strong emotion that STOPS me from going deeper down that dark road. I kind of feel like not calling it selfish diminishes the act, almost apologizes for it, and in turn kind of gives a thumbs up of sorts to people contemplating it. If it’s not a wrong, horrible, terrible, selfish thing, why NOT do that the first time it crosses your mind? If your personal feelings are what matters most, not other’s who love you, why not do whatever you’d like so long as it’s the best thing for you personally?

    For me, it isn’t myself I’ve ever stopped being depressed for. It’s others. And when I’m not thinking about others, and only thinking of my “self,” that’s when the darkness really takes hold of me. Anyway, I think I went off on a bit of a tangent there, I’m sorry. My whole point was to try to get some clarification on how taking your own life and leaving behind devastated loved ones isn’t a selfish thing, because I don’t understand that. I’ve read it several times recently, and I’m just at a loss of understanding. I certainly DO understand, and agree, that it shouldn’t be thrown around as an attack. But I think, personally, there’s a place between “angry, rage, hate-filled attack” and “the honest truth about the act of committing suicide.” Saying it’s selfish, to me, doesn’t mean you’re saying you’re better than someone else or they’re subhuman because they made a bad choice. It’s just, in my experience, true that in doing so you’re only thinking of ending your own suffering and of no one else. Maybe someone can help me out and give me the perspective I’m missing as to why you don’t consider suicide a selfish thing to do. Sorry again for the long post, I didn’t mean to ramble. I hope my post is not offensive to anyone, I really don’t intend for it to be and I’m in no way trying to start any debate. Only understanding.

  • CD Cross

    Even in the very beginning,
    “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
    Our natural default mode when things are going wrong is to isolate ourselves, but it is the worst possible way to cope. It is not good to be alone. God made us social creatures, and even Jesus came to show us how to build relationships. Depression forces us to become distant in the crowd—alone. What a sad state of affairs.

  • DobbyJunior

    If people were noticing the problems and he himself was admitting to
    them, then I do believe he was trying to reach out somehow. Maybe
    someone should have placed a suicide watch on him. Made sure there was
    someone with him all the time during his emotional sickness. I’ve had
    bouts with depression too and I enjoy being alone but when thoughts of
    suicide creep in it’s a frustrating and terrifying state and that’s when
    even the most solemn person needs someone to be there for them. RIP
    Robin, wish you were here with us still and making us laugh.