This week brought shock and sadness to movie fans around the world as prolific actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead, reportedly having died by suicide. As reports of his death came on Monday, social media was soon flooded with tributes and expressions of sadness by many fans and individuals who have been touched by Williams performances over the years. Williams was known to have had a long history of emotional difficulties and substance abuse problems, having just recently spent time at a rehab facility. His death brings attention to the common and widespread nature of psychological difficulties in our society and the inadequate nature of the resources provided to help people address those concerns. Robin Williams was a talented and prosperous actor beloved by many, yet internally he seems to have been insecure and unable to find peace and happiness. Suicide attempts typically come about when people feel hopeless or helpless and feel they can't face living any longer with whatever pain or distress they are going through. A life stress or disappointment that most people would cope with and recover from might push an already depressed and vulnerable person to attempt suicide.
Suicides amongst American soldiers have reached epidemic proportions, as the deep spiritual toll of being in a theater of death and/or being neglected or betrayed by one's country leaves many individuals feeling hopeless and worthless. These suicides are happening every day. Similarly, many other people in society with unhealed psychological and spiritual wounds take their own lives and are not featured on the evening news or even the local newspaper. Rather than addressing the deep systemic pathologies of our society that leave people in depressed states and unable to heal, we often ignore their needs or encourage the unhealthy coping habits that can lead to a downward spiral. Both recreational and prescribed psychoactive drugs are used for temporary relief, while ultimately fostering chemical dependency and impairing the person's ability to apply healthy coping strategies or face and transform their shadows or wounds. There is a very high correlation between substance abuse and suicide, and Robin Williams' case of taking his life within weeks of going through an addiction treatment program is not an isolated instance of this phenomenon.
Mental health issues can be successfully faced and overcome, but this frequently involves a multi-faceted holistic approach that addresses, the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of individuals and families. People's needs can include a safe place to live, healthy food and supplements, social belonging, intimacy, a sense of meaning and purpose in life pursuits, an expanded spiritual perspective or evolved belief structure, and creative outlets for sharing and self-expression. Mental health needs can be complex and not easily addressed in a managed care system that is focused on uniformity, diagnoses, and short term symptom suppression. A lifetime of psychological distress often begins in childhood, where stress, depression, and anxiety often foster behavioral symptoms that are treated with drugs or manipulative behavior conditioning rather than addressing the real emotional needs of the child.
Suicide can be seen as a way a person seeks to escape from pain, usually emotional pain or despair that they are not prepared to process. If we begin to help children build skills to understand and cope with emotions in healthier ways we may be able to reduce the rate of suicide as well as reduce the rates of substance abuse and other mental health challenges. Life can bring major emotional challenges to anyone, and we all benefit from learning healthy skills and having support systems available to enable us to get through those challenges and strengthen our spirits.