Loss of Logic: Men and Suicide

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Robin_Williams_2011a_(2) Earlier this week, Billy Crystal gave a moving tribute to Robin Williams during the Emmys Ceremony.  I continue to reflect on the loss of Williams to death by suicide, and all of the issues and potential ramifications surrounding it.

The dialogue around Williams’ death was initially laden with assumptions about his sobriety.  The popular opinion, with references to his recent time spent in rehab, seemed to be that he relapsed.  We still have a lot of misinformation and stigma attached to the disease of addiction.  When drugs were assumed to be the contributor to his death, there was a sense that “this is what happens when people are addicted to drugs.”

Then it was revealed that Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  His wife claimed that his sobriety remained intact, but he was struggling with depression as well as the recent diagnosis.  The conversations I have had since then have been troubling as well, particularly with men.  The sentiment has often been one of “well, that’s understandable.”  I’m wondering if any of us have heard the men in our lives say something like, “If I were ever diagnosed with X, I would shoot myself.”  It seems to me that this may be a component in the much higher rate of male deaths by suicide as compared to females.

Men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.  They are more likely to complete suicide rather than have an incomplete attempt and survive.  Men are less likely to seek help for depression, and depression is also often expressed in anger by men.  Men also tend to use more lethal means in their efforts to end their pain and suffering.  By nature, men tend to be problem solvers, and that makes the outlook by some that Williams’ death by suicide was almost understandable in the wake of his Parkinson’s diagnosis especially disturbing.

Hopefully, the tragic loss of Robin Williams will lead to all of us learning more about depression, the risk factors for suicide, and the interplay between heart disease or Parkinson’s disease and depression.  If someone you know is experiencing depression, it is important to ask them the question, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”  You will not give them the idea.  Typically, the time during which someone is feeling suicidal is relatively short, so intervention is critical and life saving.

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