Because It Could Be Any of Us: How Robin Williams’ Suicide Should Affect Us

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Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

So I really didn’t want to write this post. I feel like I’m just hopping on the virtual band wagon with the rest of the blogosphere as the world reels from the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. But, somehow I feel like I need to address a few things. There are bloggers on all ends of the spectrum bandying about words about how depression is a disease and others discussing the responsibilities we each have for our own actions. I know it’s a sore subject for a lot of us. (If you want to read more about my struggles and my husband’s you are welcome to reread some older posts where I talk about own family’s experience with depression. )

Depression is a Disease

However, I think we’re rather missing the point. Yes, depression is a disease, like diabetes. It has to be managed. It isn’t a sign weak will or weak faith. It can be caused by a chemical imbalance or by a series of difficult events. It can be treated using medication, counseling, diet and supplements or prayer. (In my experience, all of the above is the best option, or as many of the above as it takes). Sometimes it is temporary, sometimes it is chronic.

But . . .

Depressed people are not bad people, but sometimes they make bad decisions influenced by their disease. Even within those times of despair we are still responsible for our actions. This is not to say that there isn’t grace for that. Of course there is. Thank God for the grace. I wouldn’t be here without it. But there are still consequences to those actions. I have dear friend whose husband died of a drug overdose. He was a Christian who battled his addiction for years. He made bad choices. His bad choices cost him his life. Did he have a disease? Yes. But that doesn’t absolve him of blame either. A diabetic must learn to manage his or her blood sugar otherwise there will be negative consequences to the body, even death. But at the same time I need to extend grace to those who struggle and love to those left behind. Do I have this all figured out? Nope. But that doesn’t change what needs to be done.

Please hear my Sorrow

This is in no way meant to be callous or unfeeling. I have such great sympathy and empathy for people who struggle with depression. Right now, I’m in a decent place. But both my husband and I know we have to look after ourselves. We watch out for negative influences, lack of sleep, too much busyness and other things that we know wear us down and make us more prone to episodes of depression. Sometimes we go back to counseling again. I need to be very aware of my hormonal cycles so I’m aware of which dips are normal and will resolve in a few days and which are warning flags.

Why All the Conflict?

Depression and other mental illness are some of the least understood. They are complicated because of how the mind works. Did you know that how you think can actually influence your brain chemicals? One of the methods I learned when I was in counseling was called cognitive shifting. Basically through making changes to your thought processes you can alter the way the brain produces chemical and help to regulate your depression and anxiety. It’s not quite as trite as “think happy thoughts” but that definitely helps. So does gratitude. But that isn’t it. Because sometimes it take meditation to regulate the chemicals. Or exercise and diet changes. And just to make it even more confusing, isn’t the same for everyone. There is a spiritual component that I also don’t claim to fully understand but I also know is very real. But for a long time both the church and the medical community misunderstood. They tried to address the symptoms rather than the disease and when their solutions didn’t work they blamed the people suffering. It wasn’t good, I think we can all see that now. But, we should know better now. Instead of looking for where to lay the blame, can’t we just try to love on each other? Instead of giving sermons condemning depression can we be provide encouragement and comfort? Instead of just saying “get some drugs from your doctor and that will fix it” can’t we choose to walk together even through the dark valleys?

Because They All Matter

It is easy to mourn Robin Williams because he was such a likeable public figure. But it grieves me whenever I hear of anyone who chooses to end his or her life. Because while I may understand their desire to end the suffering, the choice still saddens me. No one should have to feel that way. It’s one the really sucky parts of living in a fallen world. (Yes, I said sucky. I could have said something worse, but I refrained. Please try not to be offended or laugh depending on your sensibilities).

I don’t believe that death is the end. But I also know that my God is a just and loving God. How that all works out on the other side, I don’t claim to know for sure. Because when it comes down to it, it isn’t my call to make.

So What Now?

(This post is already way longer than I know most people will read, so bravo if you’ve made it to the end.) So before you like another Facebook page about depression statistics (including the pithy little ones about how depression killed Robin Williams rather than suicide) and share another article about how Jesus is the answer (which he is, but you may not be getting the answer you expect), just think about the people.

Not just the celebrities or other public figures who have committed suicide or overdosed on drugs. The real people around you. The ones you see struggling. The ones you don’t see, but know must be there. Some people suffer in secret and in silence. Others are more public. Both need your prayers rather than your pity. If you are in a position to provide help, do it. Make a meal. Offer to babysit. Provide a listening ear. If you aren’t close enough or comfortable enough to do those things. Pray.

I mean really pray. Fall to your knees and storm heaven. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Don’t stop. The process may do as much for you as the person you pray for. Praying isn’t doing nothing. Sometimes it’s the most important thing you can do. Because the truth is, it could be any of us.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

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2 thoughts on “Because It Could Be Any of Us: How Robin Williams’ Suicide Should Affect Us

  1. Sometimes (not always) when people to take their own lives they aren’t really choosing because they aren’t capable of rational thought. For example, they may be delusional or impulsive. They may not understand, at that moment anyway, what death is or to be able to comprehend the finality of their actions. This was the case for my youngest son who survived a near fatal attempt and who written a letter hours before he acted. It’s also what I have witnessed with many patients in the psych rehab hospital where I had worked in for three years. I’ve talked with many patients who had survived suicide attempts and weeks later – when their minds cleared – found it hard to understand why they had acted as they did. Christian patients, who should best understand forgiveness, were often the hardest on themselves.
    Let’s not blame anyone….even celebrities.
    Only God knows the heart and mind of man and judgment (if any) belongs to Him alone.

    1. It’s definitely a very complicated issue and no two cases are alike. That anyone would lose their lives in such a way grieves me and I think it grieves the heart of God as well. I just find it frustrating when the world rallies behind a celebrity after the fact but is quick to ignore their suffering neighbors, upon whom our sympathy and help might actually make a difference. Mental illness is so complicated, and therefore it’s easy to want to ignore it or claim to have easy explanations, neither of which is the case.

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