September is National Suicide Prevention Month
Robin Williams’ heart breaking and premature death after his long battle with bipolar disorder is a reminder that mental illnesses are all-too-often serious and life-threatening chronic diseases and brought the seriousness of suicide to the forefront.
Mental illnesses—especially serious ones—present daily challenges that can sometimes be overwhelming. No one is immune to them – no matter how many resources people might have or how successful they may appear to be, they may ultimately not be able to overcome them. 30% to 70 % of suicide victims suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder.
Warning signs of someone considering suicide include:
- Verbal suicide threats such as, “You’d be better off without me.” or “Maybe I won’t be around”
- Expressions of hopelessness and helplessness
- Previous suicide attempts
- Daring or risk-taking behavior
- Personality changes
- Giving away prized possessions
- Lack of interest in future plans
Any one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean the person is suicidal, but several of these symptoms may signal a need for help. It is important to remember that 8 out of 10 people who commit suicide or attempt suicide have talked about it before or called for help, and are 30 times more likely to follow through with their plan to commit suicide.
What should someone do if a friend or loved one has shown some of these symptoms? They should trust their intuition that the person might be in trouble; ask the person if he/she has a plan; seek professional help; and if necessary call 911.
Help is available and people can go on to live productive lives. Despite his condition, Mr. Williams lived and worked productively for many years. He made us laugh and sometimes made us cry.
But he also fought publicly every year for his health. He recurrently and consistently sought out care and support from family, friends, and health professionals. And for many years, he won more scuffles with his disease than he lost.
His life should inspire us to speak out against the stigma and discrimination so many with serious mental illnesses face, and instead see them for their strengths. It should inspire us to identify our needs and seek help at the earliest stages of any disease process. It should inspire us to fight for our overall health and well-being every day of our lives, even in the face of great challenges. And it should inspire us to believe that no matter how difficult those challenges may be, we can still work toward recovery.
The truth is people too often lose battles to mental illnesses, which deducts years and often decades from their lives. Robin Williams’ death is a sad recap of this.
But Robin Williams’ life reminds us that change is possible, by opening our minds (and wallets) to earlier detection and treatment for all mental illnesses, to coordinated health and behavioral health services, and to programs and strategies that lead to recovery.
Since 1957 the Mental Health Association of Southwest Florida has , provided advocacy, public and professional community education, information/referral services and community based senior, veteran, adult and children’s mental health support and prevention programs. The MHASWFL identifies unmet needs and develops culturally sensitive services and programs to improve the lives of those facing the many challenges of today’s world in our community. The message of the MHASWFL is simple: Good mental health is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of every person and of the nation as a whole. The MHASWFL wants all people to understand how to protect and improve their mental health and to know when to seek help for themselves or someone close to them.
For more information and services available please contact the Mental Health Association of Southwest Florida at
239/261-5405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Other resources: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK; Project Help Hotline 239/262-7227