The world lost Robin Williams today. I posted a series of personal reflections on Facebook and felt that I should share them here as well.
A word on the passing of Robin Williams. I can tell you from personal experience that depression and suicide are nasty buggers. Terrible for the person suffering, terrible for the people around the affected person, and in cases like Robin Williams, positively gut-wrenching for those left behind. I guarantee you, the amount we will miss Robin Williams as an actor and comedian does not even scratch the surface of those who will miss him as a friend, husband, and father. I truly hope Mr. Williams has found peace, and I hope that his family does eventually as well.
For those who did not know, I lost my uncle to suicide almost 11 years ago. My other uncle attempted suicide almost nine years ago. A co-worker committed suicide about four years ago. A friend’s mother committed suicide just last year. Multiples of my friends, and even myself briefly at one point, have either considered or attempted suicide. I know firsthand the pain one must feel to consider suicide, and I can only imagine the point one must be at for suicide to be the only answer. I also know the anguish, and damn near guilt, of those left behind. “Did I miss something?’ “Was there something I could’ve done?” “Did I say the right things?” How difficult and how sad. I take this moment to publicly acknowledge my parents and Mrs. Dersey and Mr. Seidelman for seeing me out of my darkest hour. Having been on the other side, I never in a million years would want to put my loved ones through that.
I’m a journalist. It’s been my career choice in some form or fashion since I was probably five or six years old. Given my life experiences, though, there’s a part of the journalistic style I cannot abide.
“Died suddenly.” It’s not been used today, because Robin Williams is a public figure, but “died suddenly” is often a journalistic euphemism for “suicide.” Why can’t we talk about it? Why can’t we let one person’s pain teach us a lesson that might give some sort of meaning to such a senseless tragedy.
The CDC reported that one in 10 people in the U.S. suffer from depression. Almost 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year. By comparison, 14 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. While cancer kills almost a half-million people annually, making it far more “deadly,” a disproportionate amount of attention is paid to cancer, while mental illness, depression and suicide are swept quietly under the “died suddenly rug.”
Ernest Hemingway. Freddie Prinze Sr. And now, Robin Williams. These are famous people, printed and well-publicized examples that all the wealth and artistic brilliance in the world might not be enough. And while they should be the conversation, they shouldn’t be all of it.
Jim. Chad. Sandra. These are the names of real people, people like you and me that suffered through their depression and whose deaths, if they had made the news at all, would have been reported as “died suddenly.”
“Died suddenly” should not be the same as “died silently.”
It’s time to remove the stigma that depression brings. It’s time to embrace the people who suffer from depression in the same way we embrace people with cancer or any other serious illness.
I’m Brian Smith. Each day I move one day further past my darkest days, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t keep myself and emotions on high guard to avoid ever feeling that way again.