We Need to Make It Easier (and Safer) to Talk About Suicide

When the news about Robin Williams broke, it felt like someone punched me in the stomach. While I was deeply saddened to hear of his death, and that he committed suicide, I was not shocked. I did see him in real life once, in 2006, and while I can’t disclose the details of where I saw him, I can say that he appeared to be going through a very rough time. I remember thinking that he too was as fragile as any human, and how hard it must be to go through difficulties when everyone expects you to be on top of the world.

“My conscious was like, “Did you just say ‘Fuck life?’” ~Robin Williams

Yesterday, I listened to Marc Maron’s 2010 interview with Robin Williams, where Williams talked about the time he thought about suicide:

Maron: Before you had the heart problem, you don’t seem to be someone who is morbidly fascinated with death…

Williams: No. I mean, it’s weird, there was this ONE time, when I was drinking  I thought had this thought “Fuck life.” Then my conscious was like, “Did you just say ‘Fuck life?’… You know you have a pretty good life…even though it’s not working right now… First of all you don’t have the balls to do it… I mean, what are you going to do, cut your wrists with a water pick? That’s erosion.”

I highly recommend listening to the whole podcast, the conversation between Maron and Williams is just so real and uncontrived. It is actually, really beautiful.

Robin Williams was the first person on television I remember admiring. I loved Mork and Mindy, and had these rainbow suspenders like he wore on the show. They were my favorite, and I wore them often. Of course I loved a lot of his films, as we all did, but the real reason why his death hurt so much, because what happened to him could also happen to me. As horrible as it is, I get it. I’ve been there.

Now, before you call 9-1-1, allow me to explain.

I’m not going to kill myself.

For those of you who know me, already know that I have suffered from depression almost my entire life. Part of that depression has included the presence of suicidal ideation. Every since I can remember, I had this reflex where I imagine my demise every time there is a quiet moment in my brain. I don’t know where it comes from, and yes, I am seeking professional help. It’s like I have this, as Dexter, puts it a “dark passenger.” Only, my passenger just likes to tells me things like, “No one cares, so just drive a knife in your chest.” Obviously, my dark passenger isn’t a very strategic planner, since it often picks methods I’m not even physically able to do.

Over the years I’ve tried many things to silence this “passenger” including drinking,  and other things like shopping, working, relationships, diet, exercise, self-help books, professional help, etc. To this day, it’s always there, lurking in the quiet.

Why not talk about it? (Until now?)

It’s been reported that most cases of suicidal ideation go untreated. While I cannot tell you the details of those cases, I can tell you that above the stigma of talking about suicide, there is the real fear of being locked up and/or having your children taken away. Once, while I was in a particularly dark place, I called the doctors office, and they asked me if I had suicidal thoughts. When I asked, “Why?” they answered with, “Well if you have suicidal thoughts, we’ll have to send an ambulance and hospitalize you.” Then, I quickly answered with, “No. I do not have those thoughts.”

“Well if you have suicidal thoughts, we’ll have to send an ambulance and hospitalize you.”

So basically, even under the protection of “doctor-patient-confidentiality” it is not easy to talk about suicide. Would you talk about it to your doctor if you even thought  they were going to hospitalize you? If you tried to talk to your friends or family, they would freak out and treat you like a mental patient? Or worse, roll their eyes and think you were “just trying to get attention?” Would you talk about your thoughts  if they would become the subject of gossip and judgement?

Would you talk about your thoughts  if they would become the subject of gossip and judgement?

According to an article on Psychology Today, “The truth is that suicidal thoughts, even the fleeting ones, are a very serious symptom of illness.” While the thought of ending your own life is indeed serious, until discussion about suicide is normalized, then we have no idea how serious it can be.

Looking back on Robin William’s conversation with Maron about the ONE time he thought about suicide, it’s obvious now that it wasn’t just that one time. Williams was very open about a lot of dark details of his life, but maybe suicide was the thing he didn’t feel entirely comfortable talking about. Perhaps things would be different if he had been more comfortable talking about suicide. Or maybe things would have ended the same way.

One thing is clear, we need to make it easier and safer to talk honestly about suicide.

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

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