Suicide, guilt, stereotypes, and judgments

08/13/2014 Entry

This Monday, a beloved actor, Robin Williams committed suicide. It is tragic and heartbreaking. It’s terrible. I am beyond shocked, though, by everything I’ve read online. People are shamelessly posting hurtful, insensitive things, saying how selfish it was, how someone should have seen that something was wrong and did something to help (aka prevent) this man’s death. It goes on and on.

Suicide is something that has a very strong stigma attached to it: if you kill yourself, you must be selfish, you must not care about the people who love you, you’re too weak to deal with your problems, you’re a coward, you took the easy way out. It doesn’t matter what type of person you were during your life, whether you helped homeless children or bandaged up and fed veterans, ran an animal shelter. Once you commit suicide, who you were somehow fades into the background and you become this new label: selfish, weak, coward.

It is these very stereotypes that stop people from talking about it. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, and yet no one talks about it. I’ve always hated that, more so than ever this past year and a half.

The death of Robin Williams saddened me, he was a wonderful actor who had a true gift of making people laugh. Everything I’ve seen online after his death, however, has made me so angry. Maybe I feel this way because my own loss has colored the world a different shade, maybe this is just a frustrated rant. Unfortunately, I have a pretty good idea of what the people he left behind are dealing with. And I understand how hurtful everything people are saying is.

So I will say this: if you have no personal experience with losing a loved one to suicide, shut up. You have no idea what it’s like.

It’s easy to say, “Someone should have seen that something was wrong and helped!” Do you know what those of us who lost someone to suicide hear? We hear that we failed. We weren’t good enough, smart enough, to see that something was wrong. Did it ever occur to anyone that those souls suffering from depression may hide it very, very well? That not everyone who is depressed or feels broken sits alone in a dark room, doesn’t show up for work on time? Many people live their normal lives, putting on a mask to the outside world, not sharing with a single person how desperate they truly feel. Tell me, how do you do anything to help someone you have no idea needs it? It’s very hurtful and shameful to say that to a grieving family, a family who is just as surprised as you at their tragic loss.

It is my understanding that Robin Williams has suffered with alcohol and drug issues, that his demons weren’t as well hidden. That doesn’t matter. Saying someone should have done something to help is just as useless and hurtful, even in this particular situation. What was his family supposed to do? Lock him up in a padded room, bereft of everything, to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself? The beauty of being human is we have freedom of choice. It was his choice to die this way, and no one could have prevented it. No one but his family is allowed to judge him.

People should think before saying things. Really think. Since Brandon’s death, I’ve heard so many well-meaning, hurtful things. I understand that where death is concerned, no one knows what to say. Please don’t reach for overused clichés, or judgmental statements. Just say you are sorry for the loss, say that it’s a terrible thing. Those are truths. Suicide survivors feel enough guilt on their own, they don’t need help. And saying something like “someone should have seen that he was suffering” does nothing but stab in the heart.