Robin Williams’ death sparks renewed calls to tackle suicide

EDMONTON – Suicide prevention workers hope Robin Williams’ death will encourage people with mental illness or considering suicide to seek help, while breaking down misconceptions around the disease.

“He brought so much joy and life into his roles, and he made so many people so very happy,” Jodie Mandick said.

Mandick works for The Support Network in Alberta as a supervisor for the Help Line, which offers support to people in crisis.

“It can be hard for people to tie that wonderful face and voice and spirit with the inner struggle that he was going through.”

The 63-year-old actor and comedian was found dead in a bedroom of his California home just before 12 noon local time Monday. A preliminary investigation indicates his death was the result of asphyxia due to hanging.

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READ MORE: Robin Williams dies at 63 

Mandick hopes Williams’ death will spark a larger conversation about suicide.

“When we see things like this happening with really high-profile people, there’s a call to action and people really want to help,” she said.

“Raising awareness, talking about suicide, is something that we can all do to reduce the stigma. And even though it may not seem like it, that does help.”

READ MORE: Robin Williams and mental health misconceptions about depression

Mandick said reaching out and asking for support can often make all the difference.

If a loved one seems overwhelmed by hopelessness or helplessness or is exhibiting a significant change in behaviour, Mandick suggests letting that person know that you’re concerned about them.

“And ask, really honestly, ‘I’m concerned about you. I love you. Are you thinking of suicide?’ And whatever they say, be there to listen.”

For more information on suicide prevention training, click here.

US actor Robin Williams (C) and US celebrity Lewis Black (L) laugh in the back stage during the entertaining performance of 'Holiday Troop Visit' by US celebrities for Christmas at boardwalk stage of the Kandahar Air Field on December 16, 2010. BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

She added that performers like Williams bring to mind laughter and happiness, not their personal struggles.

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“It is anecdotally true that there is a sense of the ‘tears behind the smiles’ syndrome with comedians.”

An animated Disney character voiced by Williams was the first thing to make Edmonton comedian Mark McCue really laugh.

“I remember the first thing I ever found funny was him in Aladdin playing the genie.”

“Clinical depression,” he added, “is a very common thing in comedy.

“You’ll go on stage, you’ll have a great set, and that’s the best thing that’s going to happen to you in a day. And then, as soon as you get off, as soon as that wears down, it brings you way down until you can get back up again,” McCue said.

“A lot of people try to turn to drugs to try to cut that lull.”

About one in five Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. It affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures.

“There’s also a very high correlation between alcohol and drug abuse and suicide attempts,” Mandick said. “So, if we can encourage people to take that step and reach out instead of attempting, sometimes that can be the difference.”

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Comedian David Rae agrees having a support network is crucial.

“Comedians and actors are the kind of people that dig into life, and they can find the light in the darkest places, but they’re also in those dark places,” he said.

“That’s why it’s always important to have a strong support system.”

“When I think of Robin Williams, I think of generosity and … a gentle spirit, but at the same time, just this manic ball of energy. You can’t help but be cheered up by him,” he said.

“I think Robin Williams is a light that just went out too early.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, the Crisis Support Centre’s 24-hour Distress Line can be reached at (780) 482-HELP.

More information and resources can be found online here.


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