In 2003, my dad came home. I was there when he shot himself. Only ten months earlier, a friend left a party, and I got a call about six hours later that he’d been found, dead, two hours before. No one ever thinks someone near them could do this. No one. It’s easier to think that someone will just snap out of it, or if you ignore the person’s depression, it’ll go away. The reality is, it doesn’t always go away, and in minutes, your life can go from same-ol’-same-ol’ to trying to make sense of what the hell just happened.
So many people think depression is a way out, that their family and friends will get over it, or be happy with them dead. I’ve been there. A lot of you reading this probably have been too. But guess what. You’re wrong. Suicide rips families apart more than any other death. Everyone wants to know if there was any way to have stopped it, any warning signs. It’s not uncommon for people to find a scapegoat (I was the “lucky” one), on top of the typical fighting over who gets what. When my great-grandmother Delia died, we saw it coming, and there was no blame. No one could have stopped it. Getting angry at the one who died for doing this is very typical. On nice days, the days my dad and I would have jumped on his Harley and gone riding, I still find myself unexpectedly tearing up. Damn you, Dad! I still need you!!
I found out much later that Jonathan Brandis, a teen heartthrob in my teen years, hung himself the day after my dad died. Popular opinion says he was depressed after his career started going downhill, which almost always happens to child- and teen-stars. In reality, being bummed your career is in the skids isn’t going to be enough to do it. The depression is already there, lurking beneath the surface of everything you do, and because it’s an evil demon, all the things non-depressed people can handle suddenly magnify in intensity. A stubbed toe might “be a sign” that you should drive your car over a cliff. Your kid saying “No!” might “be a sign” that no one could possibly love you. Your career being over may “be a sign” that no one cares, you’re undesirable, so why not end it. Depression is a magnifying glass.
About five hours ago, Robin Williams was found dead. Asphyxiation. He hung himself in an apparent suicide. You know him. This guy.
His career wasn’t on the skids. He was, and still it, and always will be, revered, not just in Hollywood, but in hearts and homes around the world. Mrs. Doubtfire 2 was in preproduction, and even though at least Mara Wilson wasn’t on board (she’s got every right to not be in movies anymore), the rest of the cast seemed gung-ho, and fans, weary as we might be, would have lined up to see him take back the role of Daniel Hillard. That’s his character who put on the disguise of an elderly British nanny to be nearer to his kids after a divorce. In addition to cross-dressing, this movie also featured a gay couple in a role that, rather than making then out to be the butt of jokes, showed them to be mentors of a sort, his supporters and the sole people who knew what he was doing and why.
Often forgotten somehow is Mork and Mindy. You say the name, and most people know. The lack of syndication isn’t helping. This is the role that made him. Before this, his character was in a dream sequence on Happy Days. Mork was so popular with audiences that the studio decided a spin-off was in order, and you bet it was popular! Nanu nanu! Largely forgotten or not, this role is to thank for bringing us Robin Williams.
Robin had an ability to give roles the heart they needed. In 1996, he played gay nightclub owner Armand Goldman in The Birdcage. This is before Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian on Oprah’s talk show. The world wasn’t kind to gay people, and gay characters were often passed off for laughs. He gave his character the heart and humanity needed to turn bigotry on its head, and made the homophobic ultra-conservatives into the laughing stocks. I remember when this movie came out and people simultaneously loved it for its superb acting (Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria are both amazing as well) while also reviling it because the expected gay-laughs were sweet while the fools were the bigots. This was a big deal, and a big risk.
Whether he was giving the world Peter Pan in Hook (which I watch once or twice a week, and have for years), or Patch Adams in Patch Adams, Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, or John Keating in Dead Poets Society (a film which, incidentally, has a suicide), he made you laugh, even when he would make you cry. He had a magic to him. The world loved him, and loves him still. He’s a legend.
Yet still he felt compelled to kill himself. A rich, white, straight man with a solid career, adoration, and things to look forward to, still fell to the demon-serpent that is depression, and partook of the suicide-apple. All of his privilege in life couldn’t save him from the grips of depression, of that little monster that can claim any of us.
To make it worse, getting help doesn’t always work. Many times it does, but not always. Telling someone to think about how it would affect their families might not help, but may help someone else. Telling another person to think of what they have to live for and look forward to might be what another sufferer needs to hear instead. For me, it was always books when I was growing up. My idea of hell was to die without knowing how a book ended. These days, I get through my bouts of depression not my thinking of my family, but by thinking about the projects I have in the works that I need to see through to completion, and that is basically the anchor helping pull me through the doldrums. But someone people can’t find things to look forward to, or wonder why they should continue living in their own personal hell for their families. Wouldn’t their families want them to be happy, even if it means dead?
This is why it’s a beast. There’s no way of knowing who depression will hit when the poorest woman could be one of the happiest people while the richest man can be so depressed that he takes his life. Getting help can be hard when we not only don’t know what will help whom, but when ongoing help, usually involving therapy, can be costly.
If you are feeling compelled to harm yourself, please reach out to someone. Anyone. Your best friend, a stranger on the street, a blogger, someone. Anyone at all. If you can’t find anyone, check this list for suicide hotlines in your country.
If you know someone who you think is planning to hurt themselves, err on the side of caution and call for help, even if you don’t know where they are. The last time I called for help, I only knew the girl’s city where she lived years ago, and she was found. The authorities will go in high alert to tack someone down, even at 1am, to make sure they’re safe. Taking someone seriously may save their lives.
Reaching out for help when you need it, and realizing it takes strength to ask for it, may save yours.