Redefining Suicide Awareness: How The Robin Williams Tragedy Can Save Lives

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The suicide of Robin Williams has shocked many. We look at a guy like that and think “why?” He seemed to have everything. He was famous, talented and successful. He had a family. He probably had more money than most of us have ever seen. He was even still pretty young at age 63. Sure his recent TV show The Crazy Ones was cancelled after one season. But an Academy Award winner has to take something like that in stride, right?

His life evidently was not what many fans assumed it to be. He was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, still needed to work for a living despite having a long successful career in Hollywood and struggled for decades with substance abuse and depression. Turns out he was the prime example of someone at risk for suicide.

For quite some time, the incidence of suicide for middle-aged and older men (particularly for Caucasians) has been higher than any other subgroup according to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention ( www.afsp.org ). Further, issues like depression, substance abuse, financial strain and serious health diagnoses further increase the threat. Sadly, Williams’ life circumstances and demographics created the perfect storm for a suicide attempt.

Much of our nation’s conversation about suicide prevention involves protecting children, teen and young adults. This certainly is important and there are many great programs addressing this. For example, Dan Savage’s It Gets Better celebrity video campaign (www.itgetsbetter.org ) has had a significant impact on the landscape, letting LGBT teens know that whatever family and social challenges they’re facing are temporary and that self-harm is not the answer. Anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying movements have also been increasing in schools and other youth organizations in response to the small number of bullied kids who have attempted or died from suicide.

While we want to keep up the efforts to educate and protect kids, our public health efforts are currently not aimed at those most at risk for suicide. Most of those attempting or dying from suicide are middle aged or older men. Hopefully the untimely death of Robin Williams changes the way we consider suicide risk so more lives can be saved and more families can be spared the agony his family must be enduring.

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