Robin Williams, The Latest Casualty of Male Depression

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Robin Williams, a comic genius who so many of us have loved growing up with, has died, apparently of suicide, at 63. Addiction and depression seem like they are the two primary culprits again. Unfortunately, men fare worse than women when these illnesses become fatal.

We know from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) that when men attempt suicide they are four times more successful than women, even though women tend to think about suicide more. The CDC statistics also report that the rates of suicide for men age 25-65 have increased recently.

The big, unanswered question is why suicide is increasing for men in mid-life. A recent Esquire article discussed two possible factors: The Werther Effect, which says that suicide increases the more we hear about it, or know someone who has suicided, and the current culture of loneliness caused by technology and the recent recession.

I would add two more factors: the first is that there is still a major stigma, particularly for men, in terms of acknowledging a problem with depression and getting treated for it. Robin Williams told Terry Gross in 2006 that he had not been diagnosed with clinical depression (or bi-polar disorder) but that he “gets bummed” sometimes and added that he thinks others do too.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like something people say when they think of depression as a weakness or moral flaw. When depression is perceived this way it makes it harder to ask for help. Adding to this, needing help is also often seen as a weakness. Ideally, we will begin to realize that ultimately, true strength, for both genders, lies in knowing when we need help, and finding the best help we can.

Secondly, I think our culture’s increasing focus on secular humanism has a hand in this crisis. Secular humanism is a philosophy that looks to humans more than religion for a sense of meaning in life. Religion, for all it’s wrongs, provides another source of community. Belonging to a community often mitigates the need to ask for help: people just know if you are in trouble. Without it as an additional resource, we have an even greater need to overcome our stigma about needing help, and we need to learn how to recognize when we do and leave no stone unturned until we find the help we need.

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Natasha Horsley Weston

About Natasha Horsley Weston

Natasha Weston, MS, LPC is the owner of Weston Psychotherapy Services LLC & was a founding partner of the Temenos Center for 17 years. She has been an individual, family and couple’s therapist for twenty-two years. She is a specialist in the treatment of eating disorders and women’s issues, spending eight years as a therapist and supervisor at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia. She has also received training in addictions counseling, Imago couple’s therapy, Men's issues, LGBTQ issues, DBT, and EMDR (a technique that helps people recover from trauma).

2 thoughts on “Robin Williams, The Latest Casualty of Male Depression

  1. paula susan

    Thank you again! I think men are evolving through time to acknowledge their “feelings” and the importance of that aspect of themselves if they want an intimate relationship with their partner. However, depression still holds a stigma in our culture. That is the shame, not the depression!

    I also think woman, while they want their men to be sensitive and open, they also want their men to be strong. It leaves the guys in a quandary. What do women really want?

    Regarding Robin Williams, I broke down when I read the article in the Times. I always felt he was brilliant with immeasurable talent. He touched my soul more than once through his career. I perceived a depth to him that moved me. Perhaps that is my sensitivity because I am a therapist.

    The huge injustice here is that he gave so much to the world,. The least he should have had was deep satisfaction and peace within himself. The joy we felt when he was spot-on, when he was tender in his wise responses, when he was hilarious and idiosyncratic in his Robin way. He deserved to keep some of that joy for himself.

    I always wondered how his wife felt living with him. Now, I really wonder what this is doing to her. Suicide is such an ugly thing for those of us who remain. And, for him, I pray it is the peace he so longed for.

    Paula Susan

    Reply
    • Natasha

      Dear Paula:

      I agree completely! Suicide is an ugly thing for those of us left behind and I also hope he is at peace. So much ugliness and tragedy in the media representations also. I worry about that Werther effect and hope that those in trouble will reach out for help – stigma or not. Thank you so much for your support!

      Natasha

      Reply

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