Author’s note: Robin Williams’ death last year had the mental health world abuzz about suicide awareness. On the one-year anniversary of his death, and as this post notes, suicide IS preventable, and there are plenty of good resources available to help those in need, such as the ones listed at the end of this post. A good friend of mine – the best man at my wedding in fact – took his life in April 2008… but it doesn’t have to be too late for someone you know who is struggling in life. Help IS readily available!
By Guest Blogger Sally Spencer-Thomas
On August 11, 2014, we lost Robin Williams. He was a brilliant actor and comic… a man most of us grew up with. We knew him as a funny guy, an alien, a genie, a nanny, an inspirational teacher, and so much more. We also knew he struggled with depression, addiction, and possibly bipolar disorder.
Collectively, we grieve for his loss. Williams had an uncanny ability to make us smile. Even when playing more dramatic roles, he brought light, laughter, and inspiration to our lives.
Every Suicide Death is Preventable
We grieve, too, for thousands of other people who have died by suicide. Fathers, mothers, sisters, daughters, sons, brothers… suicide isn’t just about the person who dies. Its painful ripples spread far and wide, affecting every one of us.
We believe every suicide death is preventable, that not another person should die in desperation and alone. Those with behavioral health challenges like Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia possess suicide rates 10 to 15 times greater than the general population. Yet, millions survive, and many find a way to thrive. Recovery is possible!
The bitter irony of Williams’ death was the support he gave for another disease that takes lives: cancer. Williams was a strong backer of St. Jude’s Research Center and Stand Up to Cancer. He would visit cancer patients, sometimes in their own homes, bringing joy into lives that would invariable be cut short, just as Williams’ has.
The cancer prevention movement has been so effective in getting people involved — in prevention, in fundraising, in advocacy. Now many people — whether or not they’ve been directly affected by cancer — Stand Up in solidarity to help fight the battle. They stand shoulder to shoulder with people who are fighting for their lives. They stand to honor those who’ve passed with dignity.
They got people like Robin Williams to lean in, and say “I care. What can I do to help?” The suicide prevention movement can learn a lot from the successes of the cancer prevention movement.
How has the cancer prevention movement achieved these goals? They did this by advancing science and promoting stories of hope and recovery. Those who want to stand up for suicide prevention can do this, too.
As Dr. Sean Maguire in the movie “Good Will Hunting,” Williams counsels Matt Damon’s character Will Hunting on life, love, and grief before telling him, “Your move, chief.”
Stand Up for Suicide Prevention
Now it’s our move. Let’s honor Williams’ memory and that of every person who has died by suicide, by making suicide a thing of the past. What can you do to Stand Up for suicide prevention?
* Reach out and ask others who may be going through difficult life challenges. “Are you okay? What can I do to support you?” Let them know they are not alone and that you can help them link to resources.
* Promote the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) everywhere — schools, workplaces, faith communities, neighborhoods.
* Volunteer and participate in suicide prevention work like community walks, town hall meetings, crisis line support and more.
* Donate to suicide prevention organizations.
* Learn the real facts about suicide and the strategies that have been shown to prevent suicide.
* Then bring others into the circle – your health care providers, your employer, your educators, and so on. Elevate the conversation and make suicide prevention a health and safety priority.
* Ask your health care plan and provider to join you.
As a society we’ve stood up for so many other important things. It’s time for us to stand up to suicide. When we all stand up and move together, we create a movement. Together our voices can create significant change in systems, in policy, in funding, and in the general view of suicide. We can restore dignity and offer hope and empowerment and save lives.
Members of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention:
* David Covington, LPC, MBA, Recovery Innovations & Zero Suicide Advisory Group
* John Draper, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline & the Way Forward Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force
* Mike Hogan, Hogan Health Services & Zero Suicide Advisory Group
* Sally Spencer-Thomas, Carson J Spencer Foundation, ManTherapy.org and Workplace Task Force/Suicide Loss Survivors Task Force
* Eduardo Vega, Mental Health Association of San Francisco & The Way Forward Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force