Robin Williams Was Not a Coward; Fear and Blame for Depression and Suicide


*trigger warning* I want to talk about something serious today that many people in the spiritual community are afraid to address,  but it’s important to address dark or frightening emotions so that we can transcend them and deal with them.  This is an important topic to me personally, perhaps especially because I’ve suffered from depression myself.  Not talking about things makes things worse and doesn’t help us heal.

With two recent tragedies in the news, the loss of missing  Oregon mother Jennifer Huston, and beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams, both to apparent hanging suicide,  something really important is emerging in the commentaries on these events: fear… and ignorance.

Jennifer Huston put gas in her car and bought trail mix, she loved her little boys with all her heart. Robin Williams posted a heartfelt happy-birthday message to his daughter Zelda in his last instagram message.  How could anyone do these normal activities and then step through some invisible doorway into death?      That anyone, especially a parent, could love and LEAVE a child is an unthinkable taboo to our society.

When I saw a video of Fox commentator Shep Smith, veritably frothing with derision, and uncomprehending outrage calling Robin Williams a “coward” – I was outraged at such inexcusable, gross insensitivity.  But then I realised that anger, rage and blame is a normal reaction to loss and suicide – and not just for family members or newscasters.

Why does this happen?  Most of us have some experience with depression, clinical depression or a suicide attempt has in some way touched our lives or that of a loved one.    So how can we suddenly turn into a fearful mob about this topic?    Haven’t those experiences made us more understanding?   Maybe not.  Because we are afraid of death and endings, our ego can’t cope with the willing loss of life… we scramble to find logical questions and logical answers, and in the absence of those findings we rage out — “HOW DARE SHE?!  HOW DARE HE?!”   We feel hurt and angry ourselves or on the behalf of family members left behind.   But there isn’t logic in the depth of depression. Depression is a disease that impacts people of all walks of life, from every age, from every economy, from every life circumstance.  Sometimes the system intended to help people in trouble is not a wide enough net, and the way our culture and country deals with the reality emotional trauma leaves much to be desired.

Within the walls of major depression, everything is tilted and the things that make sense to us when we’re rational and not depressed, do not make sense within the darkness of that pain.     It’s not uncommon for someone suffering from suicidal thoughts to be poised between letting go of life and wanting to continue it… indeed, many survivors realise, mid-leap, that they want to live.   There is no rationality that makes a parent leave a child, or buy trail mix, or gas the car.  There is only a disease.   It is tragic and it cannot add up or make sense to our rational minds; but the truth remains – someone can very much love their family and become a victim of depression.   They are not a coward trying to hurt the ones they love, they are sick.  By the same token, those who are suffering from depression don’t want to make others uncomfortable. They didn’t choose it, and they’re not intentionally doing this to their families and friends.  Suicide may seem “cowardly” to us,  but this fear deserves compassion and help, not derision.

Blaming a victim of a disease makes no more sense than blaming a cancer victim or broken-leg victim, but we may do it anyway because we are so hurt, so afraid, so lost.    There’s another option.  Instead, we could continue to allow our compassion and empathy to rise up and defend the victim of depression instead of our fear.     Instead of trying to figure out the spiritual and cosmological forces that will determine the fate of a suicide’s soul… we could be reaching out to those who live and breathe, to those who have passed with love and kindness.

Fear is always an opportunity, in this case – to educate ourselves about how to deal with the realities of suicide and to be compassionate to those who are experiencing it.  We can take suicide and depression seriously instead of marginalizing it with blame and fear.   We can reach out to those who are suffering and to those who have experienced loss.  We can take care of our own mental well-being.  We can send love and light and compassion to Robin Williams, a tremendous actor (O Captain, my Captain!) and to Jennifer Huston and to those who have left this physical world in an act of pain or fear.    We can make the world safer for those who are in high risk groups through acceptance, education and outreach.   (The elderly, those suffering with pain or illness or  trauma, veterans after combat, LGTBQ communities, moms, dads, those suffering from depression, — the list goes on on and on)

If you or a loved one are hurting or considering suicide,  please get help.  Your work here is still important.     If you are a loved one and you believe someone is in danger, address the issue – listen, talk, and do not wait.  If danger is imminent, call 911.   Visit this website for more information if you need to get help for someone else:

In an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

For those who are confused about depression or who have not experienced it , please check out his web-series “Hyperbole and a Half”  because it’s one of the most brilliant and perfect depictions of the illness of depression and it sums up the experience in these two poignant web-comics: Adventures in Depression, and Depression part 2   — They are funny and brilliant, in a sweet and tender way – but they’re very truthful too.