Five years ago today, we were shocked by the tragic news that Robin Williams unthinkably took his own life.
Americans took this hard, as many felt like they had lost a close friend. Some older people remembered him as the genius who made them laugh clear back to the Mork from Ork days. Youngsters identified most with Genie from Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire. Personally, it stung me because “Dead Poets Society” was a huge reason I became a teacher.
He seemed so happy, so funny, so loved………how could he do this? For many, it was our first understanding that regardless of what someone appeared to be on the outside, inside could be a completely different story.
The anniversary should be a good time to reflect on mental health, depression, and suicide.
Here are some statistics regarding suicide in the United States, from the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education:
47,173 Americans committed suicide in 2017.
1.4 million Americans attempted suicide in 2017.
123 Americans died every day by suicide.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America.
In the last two decades, the suicide rate in America has increased by 24 percent.
Over one in five of all suicides is by a Military veteran.
There were twice as many suicides as murders in America last year.
Nearly all of us have been affected by a friend or loved one’s suicide. It perplexes and saddens me that we still don’t seem to want to talk about or deal with this great plague.
Imagine our reaction if 47 thousand Americans would have died last year because of terrorist attacks. Fighting suicide should be given the same urgency as fighting terrorists.
When we see someone we care about with a physical illness or ailment, we are very good about being compassionate and rushing to help.
We have to get to a point where getting treatment for depression or other mental health is seen as no different than seeking medical attention for a bad shoulder, knee, or back. They are the same things; ailments that can get better with professional help. Together, we have to work to remove the negative stigma that keeps people from reaching out for help.
If you suspect in any way that someone you know might be battling depression and or considering suicide you have to react in the same way you would if you saw them hanging on by their fingertips on a ledge. You must act, even if it is simply going to someone more qualified than you to help. Your action could save their life.
We also need to be kinder to each other. Too many people feel alone and like no one cares about them. A simple “hello”, a smile, or listening for a minute to someone might move them a few inches back from that ledge. Often you’ll never even know it.
Please use the anniversary of Mr. Williams’ tragic death as an opportunity to make a positive difference in the fight for mental health.
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