I have been deeply impacted emotionally by the news of Robin William’s suicide and have found myself shedding tears as I think about the pain that he must have been experiencing and if the outcome could have been different. By nature, I try to find meaning when there is difficulty, and find inspiration from existential concepts—specifically the Viktor Frankl quote “suffering ceases to be suffering the moment that it finds meaning”.
So what meaning can we make from this tragic death of Williams? Newsweek.com reported that the actor had been suffering from anxiety, depression and recently was diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s Disease http://www.forbes.com/sites/danmunro/2014/08/14/robin-williams-and-the-devastating-diagnosis-parkinsons/. It appears that Williams had dual diagnosis—meeting diagnostic criteria for both a substance addiction (either active or absitnent) and a mental health diagnosis. Dual diagnosis requires more than abstinence from drugs and alcohol, it requires addressing BOTH addiction and mental health symptoms. If mental health issues are untreated, this can lead to addiction relapse and if addiction issues are neglected this can lead to an escalation in psychological symptoms—the worst case scenario being self-harm or suicide. Life stressors can increase mental health symptoms for those with dual diagnosis even when they are sober from drugs and alcohol. Therefore, ongoing care is recommended and can include: individual therapy, self-care (regular sleep, healthy nutrition, moderate exercise), social support (group therapy, support groups), spiritual pursuits and as needed medication management with an addiction specialist prescriber. Which leads me to wonder if Williams had reached out for additional support for worsening mood symptoms since finding out about his medical diagnosis?