While his family, friends, and fans are celebrating his life and career, I believe it is imperative that we not let Mr. Williams’ suffering and death pass in vain.
With all due respect to his family, this post is not meant to judge or second-guess Mr. Williams’ illness, actions, treatment, or his support system. In a perfect or make-believe world, our beloved actor would have reached out to Dr. Sean Maguire, his character in Good Will Hunting, whose special talents would enable him to save and heal this patient.
Unfortunately, the reality is that there is no cure for clinical depression or addiction. The best that we can do is recognize how serious and deadly these diseases can be and respond appropriately. Those of us with mental illnesses are often at the mercy of our symptoms. We can be irresponsible, illogical, confused, rebellious, and violent—often acting out and resorting to maladaptive coping mechanisms to escape or end our suffering. Yet, deep inside there is also a terrified and helpless child screaming for help.
We live in a culture where the emphasis on image and appearance is also compromising our judgment and well-being. Celebrities are especially susceptible (vulnerable) to this, which may delay or prevent seeking treatment.
As someone who has battled suicide ideation throughout his life, I would like to make a plea to friends, family, and loved ones of individuals who are struggling with addiction, depression, or other mental illnesses. If you suspect that he or she is at risk of harming themselves or someone else, get help and have them evaluated—even against their wishes. In these situations, it is definitely better to be safe than sorry. Most states and many foreign countries allow (under welfare codes) involuntary psychiatric holds for individuals deem to be a danger to themselves or another person. This intervention or pause may very well prevent your loved one from harming or killing themselves.