On the death of Robin Williams and its consequences

I would be lying if I told you that the death of Robin Williams didn’t affect me. It did, and it did so very profoundly. Although I never knew Mr. Williams, I enjoyed his comedy very much. His quick wit and personality were something that I tried to emulate in my own life. I tried to be the funniest guy in the room, many times failing, but many times succeeding and making other people happy. A friend of mine told me that Mr. Williams likely committed suicide when he realised that his sadness inside could infect others, contrary to what he had set himself out to do in life. I agree.

Mr. Williams’ suicide is going to have a lot of consequences. Friends of mine in the mental health field have told me that a lot of people are reaching out to suicide prevention groups to do everything from talking to asking for help. His death has also brought mental health in general, and suicide in particular, to the forefront of our discussions as a nation. (If only we weren’t so preoccupied with things like Ebola in West Africa and wars all over the goddamned place.) If you look at the numbers, there are twice as many suicides as homicides in this country, which should be all the evidence we need to demand a revolution in how we treat people with mental health.

There are many evidence-based treatment for mental health problems, including a variety of medications and therapies. While the fields of psychiatry and psychology are sorely underfunded, plenty of information comes out year after year on what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, the great majority of the population doesn’t read journal articles. Instead, most people rely on what they hear or see on social media and experience in popular culture. As with the “vaccine wars,” it is sometimes dangerous what a celebrity (even a minor one) has to say about suicide and depression.

Staying with Mr. Williams’ case, a friend of his, comedian/actor Rob Schneider, took to Twitter to announce to the world that it was the medication that Mr. Williams was taking for his newly diagnosed Parkinson’s disease that triggered the successful suicide attempt. I don’t know if Mr. Schneider had confidential knowledge of the medications prescribed to Mr. Williams, but I do know that Mr. Schneider likes to dive into pseudo-science and make some “controversial” claims. For example, he has stated that vaccines cause all sorts of ailments:

“The doctors are not gonna tell you both sides of the issue… they’re told by the pharmaceutical industry, which makes billions of dollars, that it’s completely safe.”

“The efficacy of these shots have not been proven,” he later continued. “And the toxicity of these things — we’re having more and more side effects. We’re having more and more autism.”

Excuse me for being a little skeptical of Mr. Schneider’s assertion on what made Mr. Williams commit suicide. I can’t help myself, based on what he has said in the past. If he is making this assertion based only on the listed side effects of any medication used for Parkinson’s, then he is not helping anyone. He would not be helping people with moderate to severe depression or people with Parkinson’s.

The worst thing is that he would not be the only one whose statements can be “dangerous.” Plenty of other people of questionable mental health credentials came out shooting-off their mouths about what made Mr. Williams commit suicide, most if not all of it based on assumptions, most if not all of them wrong.

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4 thoughts on “On the death of Robin Williams and its consequences

  1. Hard to believe a “friend” like Scheider would actually say ‘ “Now that we can talk about it, Robin Williams was on a drug treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s,” he wrote. “One of the side effects is suicide!” ‘

    Just what in the world lead him to believe it’s ok to talk they way he does? Probably the same heaping plate of stupid that leads him to spout off anti-vaccine nonsense.

  2. Williams wife issued a statement about Robin being recently diagnosed with Parkinson Disease and Williams was also heavily involved in fundraising for the Michael J. Fox Foundation…long before he was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease. He actually used his considerable talents for worthy causes.

    Mr. Williams widow’s statement about his death gave Rob Schneider the opportunity to spread his pseudoscience, once again. Schneider is downright creepy, who will stop at nothing to gain some free publicity.

  3. This is a very familiar story.
    I’m pretty sure conspiracy theories would be strongly linked to suicidal behavior if it were investigated. Not to mention all of the deaths that could be linked to fearful avoidance of medical treatment.

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