Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Responding to Robin Williams' Death

Photo by Charles Haynes.
I am supposed to be working on a syllabus for a class on psychology of aging.  However, I have been processing my thoughts and feelings about Robin Williams instead.

There is a correlation between the psychology of aging and Williams' death. Even if he was technically too young to be considered an older adult, I do want to point out that older adults are often at risk for suicide because their rates of depression can be high.

I encourage readers to go over to this page, hosted by the Administration on Aging and learn more about preventing suicide among older adults. AOA collaborated with SAMHA (Subtance Abuse and Mental Health Administration).

Much of the information is applicable to other age groups.

My children, ages 13 and 16 learned about Williams' death while at dinner with their father. I was attending a yoga class. My children love this actor for his talent as a comedic actor. To them, they lost a genie, a zany nanny, and a modern Peter Pan.

My son wants to make movies when he grows up, "I was hoping to meet him when I move to California in my twenties."  He spent last night watching Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire.

Yes, I will miss Robin Williams as an actor. I loved him in his dramatic roles: Awakenings, Patch Adams and two films that portray suicide: Dead Poet's Society and What Dreams May Come.  We won't see any new movies featuring his talent.

But his death isn't just about losing him as an artist.  It invokes sorrow for many others who struggle with mental illness and addiction, which increases their risk of death by suicide. 

(Edited to add: After writing this post, the media released information about Robin Williams' diagnosis of ALS. I knew a women in Wichita who lived with ALS for years and was much loved by many. There is hope for rebuilding one's life after a diagnosis of a serious medical condition. For more information about ALS, see this page maintained by that ALS Association. 

As a person who has reached midlife, I have lost some friends, students and acquaintances to suicide. But I know more people dear to me who have lost someone even closer to them to suicide--a spouse, a sibling, a child.

This moves me to talk to use my tiny corner of the Internet to encourage all of us to better identify the risk of suicide. We may not always be able to prevent such losses, but we can try to offer better support to people who struggle with anxiety, depression, and addiction--problems that affected Williams.

I wrestle with anxiety from time to time, but it hasn't become catastrophic. I have a degree of empathy, but I can't really know the anguish people feel who have more serious struggles than mine. I could be more compassionate.

There are several online sources and in person sources dedicated to suicide prevention and to education and support for those with mental illness and addiction problems.  I strongly encourage readers to spend a little time investigating some of these cites / sources. Here is just one from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

As the poet John Donne wrote, "No man is an island." When one dies, many are affected.

My heart goes out to people who are suffering, and my hopes today are dedicated to improved support for anyone--young or old--who is suffering for whatever reason.

1 comment:

  1. It's such a shame ... but like you my heart goes out to the "many others who struggle with mental illness and addiction."