I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few days about Robin Williams and his untimely death. As I posted shortly after learning he had passed, Williams was one of very few actors that my generation “grew up with,” so naturally we’re all a little taken aback that this vibrant man took his own life.
That being said, this is not a eulogy for Mr. Williams. This is a plea for everyone to stop calling him selfish.
Suicide is something I don’t know that anyone here on Earth can truly understand. I think that it’s possible that the only people who truly understand the gravity of suicide are those who have passed away after taking their own lives. I say this not to diminish anyone’s personal experiences with depression, but to express my sincere belief that suicide is not a decision.
Ask yourself this: Would you, in your right mind, make the decision to end your life right now? I would be willing to bet that none of you said yes. There is plenty of documentation that supports depression being classified as a mental illness. We would not hold a person with Alzheimers responsible for their decisions when they were not lucid, so why do we think it appropriate to ridicule those who succumb to the deepest throws of depression for their actions? A newscaster this week said this about depression and I don’t know that I could have phrased it any better: “All depression wants is to get you alone in a room and kill you.” Arriving at a place where you truly believe that the only way you can improve your life is to end it seems terrifying to me, and I hope it does you too. When my time comes, rather than being so distraught I can’t fathom any other way but to kill myself that would help me, I hope to be wrapped up in a warm blanket after spending my time leading a beautiful life, living it to the fullest. I also think that ideally, those who succumb to suicide’s siren song that is ending the pain, probably once thought they would finish life in a similar way to what I have described as well.
Characterizing those who take their own lives as selfish is almost inherently selfish on its own. Yes, we mourn the loss of their lives, and their passing affects people here on Earth. Their friends and families mourn the loss of their loved one, and in the case of a celebrity the world mourns with them. However, by calling someone selfish for taking their life, you are thinking of how their passing has affected you, not what drove them to leave this world. You are forgetting that to have arrived at this place, the person who took their life had to have endured pain beyond your scope of understanding: a pain that I hope you never have to experience. At some point in that person’s life, a part of their brain beyond their control began to tell them that they would never see happiness again, and that the best decision was to leave the world behind. Labeling someone as selfish because they have a chemical imbalance in their brain isn’t considering that person at all.
I am not advocating for suicide. I think that as a society we need to do a better job of destigmatizing mental illness, and popularize seeing therapists so that those people who might otherwise arrive at a place where taking their own life looked like the only option, could be helped earlier and another tragedy could be prevented. You and I don’t think twice about seeing a doctor when we have the flu or strep throat, but when someone throws out the word “therapy” or “psychiatrist” an elephant walks into the room and suddenly everyone is uncomfortable. If we get over the idea that somehow those people who find themselves depressed are “weird” or “strange” and instead see them as “sick” and worthy of relieving care from trained professionals, we can hopefully help them see all of the beautiful things life has to offer that you and I take for granted every day.
In closing, I ask you this: Don’t judge anyone else’s pain. As we all witnessed on Monday evening a person’s outward actions are not always an accurate representation of their inner struggle. If you see someone sitting alone at lunch, wether you be at school, work, out and about, wherever you may be, make an effort to make sure they have someone to talk to. Robin Williams once saw a family walk into a donut shop late at night looking somber. When they sat down, he came over and introduced himself as “Robin,” asked if he could join them, and within minutes had everyone at the table laughing for the first time in a long time. What he did not know was that this family had just left the funeral services for a man who took his and his wife’s lives in a drunken rage. He simply saw a group of people who looked like they could use someone to talk to, and tried to help. So, as you go out into the world, spread kindness in honor of Mr. Williams and the life he lead, as you never know what small action could change someone’s life for the better.