Robin Williams and Suicide Prevention

The death of Robin Williams this week has taken the world by surprise. How could a man who has made us laugh so hard be in such a rough place that he decides to end it all? My personal favourite was his role in Patch Adams…he was a wonderful, caring and creative doctor who got that kids needed more than medications to feel better.

While he referred to his history of substance abuse and depression in his stand-up comedy, it is hard to reconcile how happy he made us, yet how unhappy he felt. Robin Williams first battled addictions in his late 20s. After more than twenty years of sobriety, he fell again in 2003. He went back in rehab in 2006, and then again earlier this year. He suffered from a severe depression, which led him to commit suicide.

According to Statistics Canada, there were a total of 3,890 suicides in 2009. The suicide rate for males was found to be three times that of females, with the highest rates for males between the ages of 40 to 59. Suicide was also found to be a leading cause of death in young people; 202 individuals aged 15 to 19 died by suicide during that year, which represents 25% of all deaths for that age group . According to the World Health Organization (2012), ‘depression is the first leading cause of disability when measured in years lived with disability.’  Depressing, isn’t it?

Today, the world talks about mental health and the importance of prevention. I cannot stress how important prevention and early intervention are. Depression has been found to be a recurring disorder which often starts during adolescence (Birmaher et al., 1996). During the transition from childhood to adolescence, depression rates triple to reach up to  18% by late adolescence (yes, this means that over a period of one year, 18% of the population age 18 suffered from a significant level of depressive symptoms which impacted on their functioning) (Birmaher et al., 1996; Hankin et al., 1998). This makes depression the most frequent mental disorder in adolescents (Keenan & Hipwell, 2005).

What does that mean? It means that in the memory of Robin Williams, and too many others who have left too early (for example, Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, two teens who committed suicide after being victims of cyberbullying), we need to encourage those we love, young and old, to seek help. How can we do that? A great first step would be to help reducing stigma around mental health issues, which can be as simple as not calling people ‘crazy’. No one would think twice about telling a friend who has cancer to get treatment. Why should it be different if they have depression?

Our thoughts are with Robin’s family and friends and all those impacted by his passing. If you or a loved one are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to seek help from a qualified professional. If you need help now, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

“You treat a disease, you win you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you win no matter the outcome”– Robin Williams as Patch Adams