Unless you live under a rock or have been in the mountains camping without any cell coverage, you likely heard the news that Robin Williams committed suicide sometime between Sunday night and Monday mid morning. I am so sad that we’ve lost him and heartsick about the way he left us. I phrase it that way because I feel that, given his profound contribution and influence on my generation and those to follow, on some level he belongs to all of us. Another post may well be dedicated to some of my favourite clips from his extensive portfolio.
Naturally the manner of his death has everyone discussing suicide and mental illness such as bipolar disorder and depression. These are painful topics shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. And what happens when people feel like they need to understand something in order to process it is that they:
rush to judgement
speak rashly and emotionally
and maybe some other things I can’t come up with right now.
I don’t remotely pretend to have any kind of expert insight into these topics, but some of the posts I have seen on social media yesterday and today were like a punch in the throat. I don’t know why I am still surprised at the idiotic things people say on the internet, but here we are. Colour me stunned.
So yep, I’m gonna jump right onto the band wagon and share my own opinions on the matter. Why not, right? I hate to be left out. And, while I don’t consider myself a contrarian by nature, I think I might have some thoughts that (I hope) might offer a different perspective than what’s being put out there by others. It’s a bit of a rant (!) so buckle up.
First of all, I need to deal with the horrifyingly disgusting position I have seen posted by some “Christians” that suicide is a “choice”. Christian or not, this is a very destructive point of view, but I am beyond incensed that those who purport to have the inside track on love seem to so often be the ones to come up with the most judgemental, unloving, grace-lacking positions (maybe that, too, is another post for another day…). So to those who have offered that opinion, I say: Shut. Up. You do not have the foggiest idea about what drives a person to suicide. Or, perhaps you do; perhaps you have struggled with mental illness and suicidal ideations yourself, and you overcame it. That is great – really, truly, I am happy for you. I would never wish that experience on anyone. But that doesn’t mean you can decide what someone else can do. You can’t see inside anyone else’s head, heart, life and struggle. The individual who commits suicide may be making a decision, but they do not necessarily have a choice. Mental illness, and in particular depression, is crippling, overwhelming, and for many, beyond bearing. There is individual genetic make-up at play, along with all kinds of psychology and even physiology. You do not know. I do not know.
The people who experience these things are VICTIMS. You are victim shaming. You are re-victimizing. And worst of all, the person to whom you are doing this is not even here to respond – but their family, who are immersed in an ocean of grief, receive your thoughtless, unkind words like a knife to the heart. How dare you.
Next, let’s address the “news” broadcaster who called Robin Williams “selfish”. He has since apologised, but not before many people took to Twitter and Facebook to agree with him. Know what’s selfish? Deciding that the microphone in front of your face is a license to say whatever you think or feel about other people – people you probably have never met. Reread the last five sentences of the above paragraph for the rest of what I think about this.
How about this as an alternative: we recognise that we can’t know the pain and struggle of another and we have no place to judge. How about we try to understand that we don’t understand? How about we just try words of comfort, sympathy and compassion? If you can’t manage that, then saying nothing is always an option.
Now, to the topic of depression and mental illness, two things:
1) I saw a tweet from a provincial opposition party member choosing this moment to politicize the issue, chastising government for not doing enough about mental illness. This sets my teeth on edge. Someone DIED. How dare you use it to make political hay?! I think you might want to go dig out your human suit and try it on a bit more often; you’re forgetting what it feels like.
2) Many people have posted well-meaning statements asking people struggling with depression and mental illness to reach out, call someone, talk to someone, get help, etc. I realize that this is well-intentioned. The problem is that mental illness and depression typically cause people to withdraw, not to mention the fact that these things impair one’s judgement, impact ability to think clearly and are, frankly, utterly exhausting. Perhaps they are unable to reach out, or to talk to anyone. We wouldn’t expect someone with no legs to get up and walk around, and we would not expect someone with cancer to turn up for work every day, so we perhaps need to stop assuming that people with depression and/or other forms of mental illness are in a position to help themselves. Maybe they are, but you don’t know that. It’s easy to put the onus on the sick because that absolves us from having to do anything. Because doing stuff is harder.
So how about this instead: if we know of someone who struggles with mental health issues and depression, we reach out to them? We can offer words of kindness, maybe take them to help, or do errands for them, or just check in on them.
As the late Jack Layton said in his final letter to the nation, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
Again, not a doctor, not an expert. Just a regular person, wishing that those of us who DO have a choice would choose to be better, so that the world would be changed and maybe despair could be eradicated. Maybe if we can think differently and try a different approach we could save someone and their loved ones from this having devastating experience.