Robin Williams took his own life this past Monday and there’s been a lot of chatter on the Internet and broader media about his choice. Did he have a choice? That’s the question. To be or not to be, as Hamlet pondered. Life’s slings and arrows can be daunting and too much at times. They can be completely overwhelming when suffering with depression or other mental illness.
So again, is it a choice? Robin had open heart surgery in 2009 and research shows that those who undertake such surgery often wrestle with depression post-op. Add in other problems that are being reported: alimony, loss of work, taking work he didn’t want to, and early onset Parkinson’s, then you have quite a heavy weight for someone already vulnerable. He said himself (as reported by his friend Carrie Fisher) that he suffered from bipolar disorder. So, again, did Robin have a choice? Life and death?
Some cynics and writers have been postulating that Robin, even though loved deeply by family and friends, along with millions of fans, couldn’t find anything redeeming in this world. Has this world become so bad? Has it become so devoid of moral value and goodness (plain old kindness) that one of its most bright and colorful inhabitants, one of its most empathetic, could not beat it any longer? Did he have a choice?
Depression can hit anyone, rich or poor, but while suffering with it can you still make rational decisions? It seems that you cannot, according to many experts. But something that is so fundamental as your own mortality? Did he have a choice? When it’s been shown time and time again that those poor souls who lived through the Holocaust most often chose life? Sure, we are all cut from different cultural and genetic cloth, but is there something universally human when it comes to choosing our own mortality no matter what? Did Robin have a choice?
I don’t think he did. But let’s cast our question in a different light: did Robin know there was a choice? I think he didn’t. When our dear friend, the one who brought tears of joy and heartache and taught life lessons on the silver and small screens, sat there in his closet and took his belt and put it around his throat he had lost all reason. All choices were gone. They had been muted by the sheer terrible force of a depression so deep that he was no longer in control. So, the question we should ask is this: why did it get to that point? What can we as a society say when someone like Robin takes his own life? We say we need to know more, we need to find the warning signs, we need to convey this no matter how much it hurts or how dark it seems to everyone from as early an age as experts agree. Suicide is not something we whisk away under the rug of sentimentality. Under pictures of genies going up to heaven. Robin didn’t have to die. Maybe he couldn’t choose life for himself, but perhaps someone close to him could have.