Robin Williams’ Suicide: What can we do to prevent similar tragedies?
Shocking news arrived Monday August 11th, that Robin Williams, one of our most beloved actors and comedians, committed suicide from asphyxia by hanging. A few days out from the tragedy, we are still coming to terms with what happened. Many of us are finding it hard to imagine how someone as funny, charismatic, and lovable as Robin Williams would choose to end his life. But while the coroner’s report and the specifics about what may have motivated Robin Williams’ suicide are not yet known to the public, the larger question for myself and my associates here at the Cherry Hill Center is, “What can we do to prevent similar tragedies in the future?”
In an effort to answer this question, we’ve included some statistics on suicide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the warning signs as identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), along with some recommendations if someone is at risk for suicide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides statistics that testify to the pervasive problem of suicide:
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans
- Each year, more than 39,000 Americans take their own lives and about 487,000 people receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years, the second among persons aged 25-34 years, the fourth among persons aged 35-54 years, and the eighth among persons aged 55-64 years
Recognize the Warning Signs
Despite our surprise when someone makes a suicide attempt, some clear signs are often present. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests several immediate signs for suicide risk including:
- Someone threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- Someone looking for ways to kill themselves: seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
- Someone talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
Other hallmark signs, identified by SAMHSA, that someone may be at risk for suicide include:
- Hopelessness—expresses no reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
- Rage, anger, seeking revenge
- Recklessness or risky behavior, seemingly without thinking
- Expressions of feeling trapped—like there’s no way out
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawal from friends, family, or society
- Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep, or constant sleep
- Dramatic mood changes
- No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
A Call to Action
Protecting someone at risk for suicide takes courage. Family and friends may fear betraying a loved one’s privacy if they take action. But most people at risk for suicide will come to appreciate their family and friends’ efforts to protect them. Be prepared to take action despite perceived risks to the relationship.
Here are several resources to contact if you suspect someone is suicidal:
- Call a local counselor or other mental health professional
- Someone in crisis may also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Call 9-1-1 or contact your local emergency room
- For a mental health referral, you may also call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Our Cherry Hill Center professional counselors are always here to help. Do not hesitate to call us if you suspect a loved one or friend may be at risk for suicide. We would be happy to provide an initial safety evaluation and offer any other needed support.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools. HHS Publication No. SMA-12-4669. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012.
Brendan C. Bell has served in the mental health field since 1998 and has worked as a psychotherapist in private practice for the last 20 years. His expertise involves working with middle schoolers, adolescents, and their families, with extensive experience addressing behavior disorders and oppositional kids. He also loves working with artists and creative types.
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