Robin Williams’ death brings spotlight to suicide

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

Robin Williams, the Academy Award winner and comic genius, died on August 11 in an apparent suicide. He was 63. Williams was pronounced dead at his home in California on Monday, according to the sheriff’s office in Marin County, north of San Francisco.

Robin Williams touched the lives of many different people and from many different generations. You can ask one household what their favorite Robin Williams movie is and they might come up with several different answers.

Robin Williams was featured in numerous films and TV shows including his claim to fame as an alien in the popular show Mork & Mindy.

Williams’ film career included such acclaimed films as Popeye (1980), The World According to Garp (1982), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), and Good Will Hunting (1997), as well as financial successes such as Hook (1991), Aladdin (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage (1996), Night at the Museum (2006), and Happy Feet (2006).

Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Good Will Hunting. He also received two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and five Grammy Awards. TV producer George Schlatter, who first saw Williams doing stand-up comedy in 1977 and gave him his first TV spot in Laugh-In, recognized Williams’ talent immediately, telling friends and associates that Williams “is gonna be an important force. Not just a talent, but an important force in show business.”

Terry Gilliam, who directed Williams in two films, was awed by his ability to “go from manic to mad to tender and vulnerable,” stating that Williams was “the most unique mind on the planet. There’s nobody like him out there.”

Williams was a man so full of such life and joy that his suicide took everyone by surprise. Most people never would’ve known that he sometimes suffered from depression and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for much of his career.

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network believes it is important to note that what happened to Williams happens to over 900 people in Tennessee each year—people of both sexes, all races, every socioeconomic class, and in any city or neighborhood. The methods and circumstances may vary, but the effects are typically the same. A family is broken apart, friends and colleagues are left unsure of what to do or say next, and entire communities may be left with lingering emotional scars.

“Through the untimely death of entertainer Robin Williams, a bright light is shining once again on the often-avoided conversation about suicide,” said E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

There are people out there who were already in a vulnerable place who may be further affected by Williams’ death and the aftermath. The number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK, or 8255) is being promoted to an unprecedented degree in the wake of this tragedy, but there are things that people who are not counselors or first responders can to do help others who may be considering suicide.

“Preventing suicide in our communities starts at the most basic level of individual people at risk,” said Scott Ridgway, executive director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. “So it’s important to know what to do, and what not to do, when someone you know starts to display warning signs.”

The important thing for people to know is that there is hope. While we all face challenges in life, some of us tragically succumb to fears that manifest into a nightmare, bound and determined to erase our will to live.

If you or someone you know and love is at a breaking point, especially one so low they speak of wanting to end their life, take immediate action to get them help. Ask for help and you will get it. Call the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services 1-855-CRISIS-1 or (1-855-274-7471). Someone is there, 24-7 to listen and help. There are people across the state who will mobilize to assist you.

The tragic loss of actor and comedian Robin Williams has touched many. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ skilled professionals and agency partners across the state are ready to help you and your loved ones overcome this or other challenges with mental health issues. Make that call for yourself or someone you love.