On Monday night, the world was shocked to read about the suicide of Robin Williams at age 63. The outpouring of grief asked how someone who could bring so much joy to so many could also experience such darkness.
There was talk of mania, manic-depressive and bi-polar illness, his struggles with drug addiction and severe depression for which he sought help before his death. Dr. Gary Sachs, founding director of the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital noted that some creative artists find that mania gives them the energy and free-associations necessary for their work. Some psychologists suggest that humor comes from dealing with an unhappy childhood—Williams was often left alone in a big house, and was bullied for being overweight—while others note that the highs come from the same recesses in the human psyche as the darkness. Many used the word “genius” to describe his flashes of brilliant wit and improvisational antics.
Williams first dazzled the world with the innovative Mork and Mindy, but he could also stir the deepest longings in our souls in films like Dead Poets’ Society. In 1997, he played a psychiatrist in “Good Will Hunting,” in which he pressed an anguished Matt Damon to be honest with himself. Yet Williams himself was said to wonder if he knew himself; he was many things to many people. Film critic A.O Scott of The New York Times remembers his mind being “blown” in eighth grade by the idea of “Reality—What a Concept;” critic David Edelstein noted the Fisher King as the key Williams role; Dan D’Addario of Salon, equated Williams as the Peter Pan for the zany freedom of our childhood, and Sarah Larson at The New Yorker wrote that he was he was “an id run wild, or a child, or ourselves at our craziest.” Many remember his teaching of Carpe Diem – Seize Life," the manifesto he taught his students in Dead Poets' Society, as the most memorable line of his legacy. Slate's Forrest Wickman said, in summary: "Whole generations will remember him differently.”
Robin Williams was beloved by so many for so many gifts, and his ability to draw from the multiple facets of his own psychological depths helped others see themselves in his roles. His wife Susan Schneider said in a statement after his death, “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.” His daughter Zelda tweeted a quote from The Little Prince: “In one of the stars I shall be laughing” and added: “I love you. I miss you. I’ll try to keep looking up.”
Could his suicide have been prevented? Suicide rates in the United States are continuing to rise. Suicide causes 39,000 deaths annually, and is rising notably among baby-boomers by almost 30%. Death rates by suicide are higher than car accidents, higher than prostate cancer, or AIDS. These dramatic figures point to the need for increased mental health funding, wider available of psychotherapy, and education to reduce the stigma of depression.
On the other hand, not everyone is willing to seek professional help, yet many can see themselves in Williams’ struggles to know and balance himself. Preventative self-care can help us recognize and modulate our stress and emotions, re-balance and know ourselves, confront existential challenges and discover a sense of equanimity with life. These inner resources are called “self-resiliency.”
More information about Self-Resiliency can be found on this website: http://www.SelfResiliency.com