In life, Robin Williams was one of a kind. In death, he was one of 105 – the number of Americans who killed themselves Monday.
It is no surprise that the suicide of a returning vet who’s PTSD has gone untreated doesn’t trend on Twitter. The suicide of the high school student everyone thought had it together is not going to get cable news to break away from coverage of ongoing crises in Ukraine and Ferguson.
In the wake of a celebrity’s passing, it is de rigeur to tweet condolences, hashtags that start with RIP, and favorite performance of the deceased. Typically, these are for actors who have lived into their 80s or 90s or died in a freak accident.
Robin Williams’ suicide represents more than the loss of an incomparable comedic and acting voice for fans across the world. It is a tragedy for his family, friends, loved ones, and the man himself. Monday evening, Williams’ publicist told reporters the actor had been “battling severe depression.”
Twitter and Facebook Monday night were filled with posts from people who were, understandably, sitting down to watch their favorite Robin Williams movie to honor the actor. Rightfully so, but we can do more. We need to do more.
Suicide’s prefix, sui-, is both sadly apropos and terribly deceptive when it comes to the act the word defines. Sui means oneself. In the days, weeks, months, and even years leading up to the act, a depressed person believes they are all alone. That there is nothing to live for. There is no peace.
The moment they get that desired peace, by ending their life, the peace of those around is shattered. The act touches more than the one; the direct impact is felt by many. It can take years to recover and not blame the deceased for what they did.
Take a look around you. The CDC estimates that 1 in 10 Americans report being depressed. Odds are high you have friends who are suffering from this illness. It is also likely you know someone who is fighting severe depression. Maybe it is even you.
Honoring Williams by watching his movies is a good first step. But let it remind us that more than an amazing talent was lost. Like the 104 others lost Monday, he was a parent, a husband, friend, confidante, and so much more to those whose lives he intersected.
As someone who suffers from depression and who had a parent come close to successfully committing suicide, the truth is that there is no simple magic fix. No medication will let those suffering and fighting this wake up one morning cured for all time. But we can help them in their efforts by listening, working with them to realize they need to get help, and being a reliable presence in their life.
We need a national dialogue. If nearly 9 million people (the number of Americans who suffer from major depression) were taken ill by an over-the-counter medication, cable news, Capitol Hill, and the internet would be abuzz with ways to address the crisis. Where is the push to address this silent killer? Where is our War on Depression?
Let Williams’ passing serve as a reminder that for the depressed and suicidal, they need more than our #RIPs after tragedy strikes, they need our help to Live in Peace.