In the wake of comic legend Robin Williams’ suicide, health care advocates emphasize that depression and other mental issues are medical problems that can lead to tragedy.
But Dr. Bethany DeRhodes, a psychiatrist in Miami Valley Hospital’s 34-bed Inpatient Psychiatric Unit, said depression doesn’t have to end in suicide.
“There are treatments that work. You don’t have to suffer,” DeRhodes said.
Suicide’s connection to depression
Depression, one of the most common mental illnesses in the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control, is not the only cause of suicide, but DeRhodes said it is among the most common.
Lt. Keith Boyd, an assistant chief deputy coroner of Marin County near San Francisco, said Williams was being treated for depression before he was found dead in his Tiburon, Calif. home Monday, Aug. 12.
Authorities suspect the Academy Award-winning actor best known for roles in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Jumanji, “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Aladdin” and “Good Will Hunting” hung himself with a belt. Williams’ left wrist also “had several acute superficial transverse cuts,” Boyd said in a prepared statement.
“Pretty much anyone and everyone can be affected by depression,” DeRhodes said.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 16 million Americans ages 18 or older experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2012, representing nearly 7 percent of adults in the nation.
Depression is one of the leading causes of suicide, the 10th-leading cause of death among persons 10 years and older in 2009, according to the CDC. Suicide resulted in 36,891 deaths that year.
DeRhodes said it’s key that stigmas associated with suicide and brain illnesses like depression be discredited to save lives.
Fox News anchor Shepard Smith and actor Todd Bridges drew heat after calling Williams, who also publicly battled alcoholism, “cowardly” and “selfish” for taking his own life.
Both men later apologized.
Recognizing the signs
Carolyn Givens, executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, urged people to watch for changes in loved ones that may signal they are contemplating or planning to commit suicide.
Among signs like restlessness, loss of appetite and giving away possessions, are suicidal statements such as “you will be better without me” and “I’d be better off dead.”
“They feel isolated. They feel disconnected from others. They feel like they are a burden,” she said. “There is a loss of the fear of dying. They are not necessarily going to act out on others, but on themselves.”
Givens said mental health issues should be talked about as openly as cancer, diabetes and other medical disorders to save lives.
It is critical that people in danger receive help.
“You never know when this is going to happen. You don’t always know how much pain someone is in. There is no neon sign,” she said. “When you are depleted (mentally), obviously the way Robin Williams must have been, you have to make it stop.”
Ohio recorded 1,420 suicides in 2010, according data from Ohio Department of Vital Statistics. That statistic — the latest available — includes 39 people in Butler County, 6 in Darke, 10 in Greene, 13 in Miami, 19 in Warren, 69 in Montgomery and 1 in Preble.
Givens knows first hand how destructive suicide can be. Her 21 year-old killed himself and her former husband had two failed attempts.
Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely die as the result of an attempt because the methods they use are typically far more lethal. Of those Ohioans who committed suicide in 2010, 1,129 were male.
According to Ohio Hospital Association data Givens provided, 9,121 people visited one of the state’s emergency rooms in 2009 for a self-harming or suicide attempt. Females accounted for 5,006 of those people compared to 4,115 males.
Holly Cavaliero, interim director of the Dayton area-based Suicide Prevention Center hotline, said that she didn’t realize her brother was suicidal until it was too late.
Facing martial issues, 44-year-old Joseph Cavalierio killed himself in 1997.
“It created a deep hurt that will never go away,” she said of her brother’s suicide.
Cavaliero urged loved one to talk to those who show signs of suicide and help them find help. She recommended calling suicide prevention hot lines or medical professionals. Police should be alerted if there a suicide plan.
“There are a lot of people hurting out there. Nobody is listening to them,” she said.