In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I’ve seen a lot of people post things like “I hope he’s found peace,” or “I hope he’s at peace.” And while I understand that those things come from a place of good will, they really, really bother me. Because to me, it reads like “I hope that committing suicide worked out for him.”
I’ve been fairly open on this blog about my own struggles with depression. On occasion, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts, and one of my ways of combating those thoughts is the knowledge that suicide doesn’t work out. There’s no peace, no joy, nothing positive to found in killing yourself. It’s a tragedy that strands your friends and family in a sea of grief, and denies yourself every good experience and little bit of love you might have had between now and your natural death. It’s a horrible, terrible permanent response to a temporary emotional state. Because even though depression is a chronic condition, the emotional states that it brings with it usually are more temporary, coming in episodes, and even if not, seeking help and treatment is still a vastly preferable response to taking your own life.
Ultimately, depression killed Robin Williams, in a similar sense that cancer killed my mother. It’s a disease. It’s not a failure of will, or a fault of personality, it’s a fucking awful disease, in which a problem with the neurotransmitters in your brain causes deep depths of despair and anxiety that aren’t necessarily related to any outside life event. The nature of clinical depression is that it doesn’t have to have an outside cause; it doesn’t care who you are, any more than cancer or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s does. It can strike anyone, even one of the world’s most successful entertainers. Robin Williams didn’t kill himself because he was a coward, as Shep Smith suggested, or because he was a bad person, or because he lacked a failure of will. He killed himself because he suffered from severe depression. Cancer killed my mother. Depression killed Robin Williams.
The death of Robin Williams is a tragedy, and he is a victim of a disease. I suppose it’s the nature of the way our culture mourns that we attempt to wring anything positive from terrible events, in an effort to make ourselves feel better; usually this comes in the form of platitudes like: He’s in a better place. Or, I hope he’s found peace.
But even typing those words makes me tremble with anger. If you must take something positive from the death of Robin Williams, then be nicer to people, because you never know. Share and publicize the suicide prevention hotline. Educate yourself on the nature of depression, and learn the best ways to listen to friends and family who suffer from the disease. If you think you might be depressed, if you find yourself feeling sad and anxious often for reasons way out of proportion to any rational cause, then please seek help. And maybe through his death, we as a society can become more educated about a widespread, tragic disease that is nevertheless often mocked or dismissed by media and culture.
But Robin Williams’ death– indeed the death of anyone who commits suicide or has their life cut short by a terrible disease– isn’t something to be validated, any more than I would try to validate the cancer that killed my mother.
For the sake of anyone else still alive who struggles with depression and suicide, please don’t suggest or wish that suicide is a valid way of finding peace. It’s not. It can’t be, not if we don’t want to lose more people the way we lost Robin Williams.