Suicide is Tragic, But Don’t Call it a “Selfish Act”

Image: Melancholy by Marie Constance Charpentier, via Wikimedia Commons

When I heard that Robin Williams committed suicide after suffering from severe depression, I was empathetic. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, something I don’t think people have when they say, “He was selfish,” which is often a running commentary on suicide.

I’m not here to glom on to a high profile celebrity death; I want to speak about depression and to those who are brushing off Williams’ suicide as selfish. Depression, whether it is mild or severe, is no joke and it’s still not taken seriously. Maybe now it will be.

If you’ve never been depressed, and I mean really depressed, not just sad for a couple days, then I’m writing to you. Depression changes the way you think about everything. It’s this thick woolly blanket that wraps you up and isolates you from everyone and everything you know or like. Your thoughts are telling you that you are unworthy of love, happiness, friendship, and you can’t talk to anyone about it because you are a burden. Everyone else is happy, so you don’t want to bring them down with your sadness and despair over “nothing,” when there are real problems in the world like famine, genocide, cancer, climate change. Your feelings are insignificant next to those real problems.

That’s how depression works; your own thoughts betray you. These aren’t the thoughts of a stranger popping in and telling you that you suck. You are telling yourself you suck, and you trust yourself, right?

To the people who will gloss over Robin Williams’ death or any other suicide with “They were selfish,” I hope I am able to help you empathize more. Maybe getting angry is your coping mechanism when tragic events happen. Calling suicide selfish does not help, nor does it deter suicide. If anything, it prevents people from seeking help because they don’t want to be “selfish” since selfishness is frowned upon.

To the people who may be suffering in silence, I want to tell you that there is help out there and you are not a burden. I sought out the help of a therapist after the nothingness and the sadness became too much (and a close friend found success with therapy). Having the ability to speak to someone about the darkness in my own mind, without judgment, has helped immensely.

Medication may be prescribed to you and I’m here to tell you that that’s not a failure either. I initially resisted pharmaceuticals because I thought I was better than that, but a chemical imbalance in your brain is a steep mountain to climb by yourself. I remember my hand shaking the first time I held that pill, I didn’t know what was next and I feared becoming something I wasn’t. But guess what? The medication didn’t turn me into an unfeeling, smiling robot. Instead, I started to see the pros in everything rather than the cons. I felt a little bit lighter and I began to look forward to everyday things instead of dreading them.

I am one of the countless people who grew up watching Robin Williams and enjoying his many talents, and he will always be in my heart. If anything good comes from his tragic death, I hope it is an understanding that depression is not something to laugh about or minimize.

The website PostSecret.com has put together an extensive Wiki for suicide prevention, if you have feelings of hopelessness, despair or think that you don’t matter, please reach out. Hell, email me (alexis@theflounce.com) because you are important and you do matter.

 

Alexis Oliver
Alexis has been writing on and off since she was a kid. Her first submission was to Highlights Magazine, and though they passed on her in-depth analysis of falling leaves in winter, she continued to be a loyal reader. She is most passionate about animals, conservation, and trying to convince her county to allow backyard chickens. Alexis currently works full time in Hospitality and lives outside of Pittsburgh with her boyfriend and three cats.
  • http://theflounce.com Jen Pink

    As somebody who has lost people I love to depression and suicide, and as somebody who has felt the pain of depression and been drawn to suicide myself, I really appreciate this. Thank you, Alexis.

    • http://www.theflounce.com AlexisO

      You’re welcome. I really wanted to write this because people don’t understand depression unless they’ve experienced it. People in the public eye saying he was selfish really angered me and it made his loss even harder to take.

  • JenniS

    The mantra of “he was selfish” when someone commits suicide disgusts me. Especially when it comes from people who have sought help for their own depression. I have seen some people like that. “Suicide is selfish and the easy way out. I got help. You just have to make the effort.”

    UGH. No two people are the same. Neither are any two cases of depression. No amount of money or fame can fix depression. Don’t judge someone else for making this choice just because your depression was “easy” to fix.

    • http://www.theflounce.com AlexisO

      THANK YOU. I was inspired to write this because after the news broke, on my way to work, all the radio hosts were saying “He was selfish” I would’ve called in and tried to spark a conversation but I didn’t have time.

      • JenniS

        That’s so infuriating. Instead of celebrating the life he had and the movies he made, people are bashing him. I’ve seen people say they’re throwing out his movies. Seriously?! If that’s the case, then you were never a fan to begin with, IMO.

        The other thing I keep thinking is that I don’t believe it’s a good idea to speak ill of the dead. It’s like begging for someone to haunt you. The fact that so many people think nothing of talking crap about a deceased man who cannot stand up and defend himself against their accusations….it’s just rude and appalling.

    • Blahblee

      If anything, Robin Williams proved how strong a potion depression is and how hard it is for anyone –even rich, popular, famous people– to really get help, because had he just asked, millions of people would have been willing to “help” him in any way they could.

      He could have hired a whole team of psychiatrists. Had he thought that would work.

      • JenniS

        Not only that, but there’s that burning desire to no longer be a burden. A burden on his family, a burden on his friends, even a burden to his potential psych team. It’s that mindset of “well, there are people with REAL problems, I shouldn’t burden anyone with my sadness over ‘nothing’……”

  • Nicole

    I think the mantra of “he was selfish” ( as JenniS put it below) probably comes from people a bit distant from a loss like this and it’s a knee-jerk reaction. And I’m speaking from the stand point of someone who has never been nearly this depressed, but I was close to someone who took their own life last year (I guess everyone has to pad their cred to talk about something like this?) I never thought “selfish asshole”. At least not seriously. But I will say it feels like a double mourning. The first one is that my friend is dead, the second one is that my friend killed himself. They are both completely devastating, and some people will absolutely never be healed from it.

    • http://www.theflounce.com AlexisO

      I agree with the double mourning, maybe almost triple mourning because your grief could also include second guessing yourself like “Did I miss something?” or “Could I have helped in some way?” it compounds the loss even more.

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  • Gerald Michael

    If one has reached middle age, has no family left, and no children, or friends, and makes plans for the suicide so it is as mess-less as possible, and distributes his or her estate in advance to charity, and realizes his carbon and Social Security footprint will terminate thus not depriving others, I would consider it “selfless” rather than “selfish.”

  • Ophelia

    having worked in the mental health field, including psych hospitals, i can tell you for a fact; there are some people for whom medications don’t help. therapy doesn’t help. ECT doesn’t help. it’s tragic, but it’s true. now, in Williams case he not only had a lifelong struggle with depression; he had a particular brain disease called “Diffuse Lewy Body dementia” that escalated rather extremely in the last two months of his life. He may have been hallucinating. He probably experienced confusion. His body may have been failing. It would almost certainly worsen any existing depression and compound an already compromised rational mind with cognitive degeneration. None of us can possibly imagine what a hell he went through in those final weeks, days, and hours.

    like yourself, i’m NOT advocating suicide. many, many people can recover even from the deep, soul-sucking depression that effects brain chemistry in such a way that pain and painful memories are actually more accessible and happy memories are locked away. i’ve struggled with suicidality off and on under extreme stress and with a history of trauma most of my life. i rarely get to that place anymore; i’ve developed coping skills to stay away from it, but i’m not arrogant enough to think i am immune. what i know from my own experience is that to overcome my own individual fear of death, my own will to survive, enough to seriously contemplate ending my life, meant i was in more pain than i could bear for longer than i could bear. the inner emptiness, desperation, loneliness, and hopelessness cannot be overstated. it was liked being eaten alive from the inside out. i think of the people who jumped off the world trade centers after 9/11, driven off a ledge to certain death because of the inescapable fire inside the building; does anyone call them selfish or cowards? of course not. that’s what it felt like to me. like it was becoming the only form of escape from unendurable suffering. i’ve had many, many decades of therapy, and it has helped, but it hasn’t fixed me or really healed me, only allowed me to cope. it’s helped me grow and many other positive things, but most importantly it’s helped me learn skills that allow me to stay OUT of that hopeless place. medications haven’t been helpful to me. i have, in my life, been hospitalized when i talked about being suicidal and that, for me, is the biggest deterrent to ever telling anyone how i might be truly feeling, because being locked up is a horrible, horrible, dehumanizing experience that was in no way helpful.

    the worst part of depression is how it is perceived socially as weakness or failure. people don’t want to hear about it. and it’s kind of understandable in that depression is hard to handle as a support. people don’t know how to help or be sensitive about it. they try to be encouraging, at best, which can actually make depression worse for many people. what depressed people really need, IMO, is to be heard and validated. yes, of course you are depressed over XYZ. not “look at this silver lining over here” but “yes, that would make me angry or sad or grieving or discouraged too, i hope you know you can talk to me about these feelings anytime, you don’t have to be happy to talk to me. i don’t want you to feel alone. i’m here. i can’t fix your problem, but i’m your friend and i’m here.”