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Letter: Williams’ passing sheds light on suicide in U.S.


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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of The Republic.

From: Annette Kleinhenz

Columbus

As we mourn the loss of Robin Williams, we are unfortunately reminded that prejudice, ignorance and insensitivity abound, but we now share an opportunity to re-evaluate our perspectives.

This brilliant actor fought an ongoing battle with mental and physical illness and lost. What an American tragedy, but is it completely tragic?

Perhaps Williams would smile again if he realized that his passing has sparked a national conversation about suicide.

Perhaps he knew that daily over 100 Americans die by suicide, that suicide is a leading cause of death among college students second only to traffic accidents and that twice as many Americans die by suicide than by murder.

Perhaps we are more aware of the depth of pain that any person with depression might experience — no matter how talented and successful.

More than 90 percent of people who commit suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Perhaps our sadness can turn to prevention, to understanding, to empathy, increasing our sensitivity to those who suffer from depression.

How can we prevent this unfortunate outcome of mental illness? Earlier this year, Columbus Regional Health and Centerstone invited Dr. Thomas Joiner to present his research on suicide. He illuminated ways we can prevent suicide by addressing three general risk components: feeling like a burden, lack of connectedness and insensitivity to the means to carry it out.

The highest risk population for suicide is older men, as Joiner tags “feeling like a burden” a top risk factor. Losing independence or functionality or receiving a medical diagnosis has deeply devastating effects.

Popular belief states people are most depressed over the holidays, but data prove that assumption wrong. Thanksgiving, Christmas, 9/11, Super Bowl Sunday and weekends surprisingly have the lowest rates of suicide completion.

In fact, the day of the week with the highest suicide rate is Monday. Robin Williams and my son passed on a Monday. Joiner theorizes that connectedness reduces suicide risk and bringing people together is protective.

Lastly, becoming desensitized to the means by which a suicide may be carried out adds risk. This references the high risk of suicide within military personnel, emergency room physicians and drug users. Being even more keenly aware of and connected to these groups is critical.

The Family Service Inc. “Got Family” Run/Walk reiterates the message of connectedness with its theme, “Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness: Not Broken, Not Worthless, Not Alone.”

My son would often say the greatest tool he had in managing his illness was his connection to his family. I encourage families, friends and neighbors to lock arms and support those who may be disconnected. Don’t let those with disabilities, of any kind, feel like a burden. It may be your outstretched hands that save a life.

Honoring the memory of one who sought opportunities to make us think and laugh, spreading good in the world, we can remember Robin Williams by committing to rally around those who struggle with mental illness, offering respect, support and connectedness.

Statistics can be retrieved at bbrfoundation.org, cdc.gov and nami.org. Referenced research of Joiner can be obtained from akleinhe@iupui.edu.

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