Many of the accounts in the mainstream media about Robin William’s suicide cite the long term struggles he had with addiction and significant bouts of depression. It is not clear if a stay in a rehab in July was drug related or perhaps a cover for another attempt to deal with depression.
In addition to these impacts, the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease was cited as another burden added to his already weakened state of mind. Not only is the diagnosis a discouraging one, but another symptom of Parkinson’s can be a worsening of depressive moods.
Sadly, several people who saw him in the few days before he took his life said he seemed relaxed and happy. One doctor quoted in People’s magazine said the phenomena of a person seeming to be stable just before suicide is not that unusual.
For many people, the more trouble they are in personally, the less likely they are to reach out to talk to someone to let them know how much trouble they are in. Part of this dynamic is the widely held stigma about depression and mental illness. People suffering from serious depression and suicidal thoughts do not want to be tagged with the label of being “mentally ill.” Others are concerned they will be seen as being “damaged goods” and that such a tag will interfere with their career, or the way their friends see them, if it gets out they are suffering from a mental health condition. Unfortunately, they are probably right about this and therein lies the bind.
All I can say is this.
As someone who has suffered from depression and thoughts of suicide for significant portions of my adult life there is another general problem. The help that is needed often does not exist.
It is one thing to say to someone to reach out to other people if you are in danger. But for many people they cannot find the help they need. There simply are not enough trained counselors or doctors or spiritual teachers who know how to help someone with a chronic problem. Also the medication that works for some people does not work for many others. The recovery programs where many find a good support group are, for some people, just another place where they don’t fit in no matter how hard they try.
Add to this the diagnosis of a major illness such as Parkinsons and I can imagine that the walls just seemed to be closing in on Robin Williams.
After all how much pain is a man or woman supposed to be able to endure before they break?
Certainly, I have no way of knowing if Robin Williams was given good counselling advice that he chose to ignore. This is very possible. Someone as successful and affluent as he was might have had pretty strong walls in place preventing any real help from getting in. In fact the core of problems for many people is an inner rigidity the blocks any real progress. Despite the comedic personna, it is possible this was the case with Robin Williams but only those who treated him could really know if this was or was not the case.
But it is also possible that just as some physical illnesses do not respond to any known treatment, it is also true that many mental health conditions and cases of addiction do not respond to the known available treatments either. Something else is needed.
So much of my work with “The Simple Path of Holiness” has been to explore treatment options for people that other treatments, or forms of spirituality, simply do not work.
My hope with the book and my meditation workshops is to continue to explore new modes of treatment for people who have slipped through the cracks of medical and psychological treatment centers.
May those of us who have found ways to survive that which killed other good people continue the search for ever more creative ways to diminish extreme suffering.
This is a good vocation. This is a true vocation. This is a simple vocation.
Please let me know if it is one you share. I would be most grateful for a few energetic co-workers.
Also, if you have an interest in meditation and related studies and are struggling with addiction or mental health issues, please feel free to make contact before you take any self-destructive steps. While the program I have developed calls for more work than many are willing to do, it is a very interesting way to help people find a way to triumph over very painful conditions and to learn how to help others do the same.
Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” and host of MeditationPractice.com.