Helpful hints and discussion about mental health and mental health issues as it relates to
news, popular culture and day-to-day life.


Thursday 14 August 2014

Robin Williams: Suicide and tips for persons struggling with suicide


So I need to start this post entry by saying it was not my intention to write a post on suicide, suicidality, prevention, warning signs and helping those struggling with suicide and/or people supporting those struggling with suicide. In my past work experience, I did a lot of crisis counselling for people who were feeling suicidal, but I was concerned about "capitalizing" upon this poor man's death.
In view of the death of actor Robin Williams, it may be timely to visit the topic as it has brought the subject of mental health and in particular, suicide, to the fore. Moreover, dealing with living in the limelight may have had a huge toll on the man that we may never fully understand, see post on Envy, Narcissism and the Cult of Celebrity, link here:

Robin Williams' struggle with depression and his eventual suicide brings to light an issue that many people who are depressed wrestle with: taking your own life. Now, for most persons, in the most simple way to view the situation, the desire to suicide, or thoughts about suicide, even fleeting thoughts are usually in response to feelings of utter hopelessness.

Most people who are full of hope (or faith,.... and yes, I mean that religious thing too!), usually don't succumb to taking their lives.  It is when things appear to the individual that there is no way out or no solution, that they begin to entertain the idea of suicide or what is called "suicidal ideation" --- again another fancy expression, that psychotherapists/counsellors like me use!

So people who are facing chronic pain or who have had multiple losses and have begun to lose hope are most at risk.

So, many of us have experienced times of desperation where we felt hopeless and may have even voiced or said aloud "I wish I were dead". This is like an ideation. Fleeting, brief and it goes away as the situation changes. However, if the situation intensifies and continues, for an ongoing period of time, then the fleeting thoughts appear more and more often. Now they become a continuous daily theme. At some point the "theme" may then evolve into something more sinister.

This is when the individual starts fantasizing about taking their own life. This is an amber/red alert type of situation. However, if the individual then moves from fantasies to actual, concrete planning of their suicide, now you have an emergency.

The following are some red flags -- warning signs that you or someone you know is at very serious risk. Indeed if someone only even says, even just in passing, even just jokingly "I feel like killing myself" Then your red flag needs to go up. 
Red Flags:
  1. Saying "good bye", literally and figuratively. Having meetings with people. Having lunch or dinner with people. This is usually a "goodbye" dinner for the suicide victim, saying good bye to loved ones before they "go". Tidying things up. Wrapping things up.Giving away prized possessions.
  2. History of depression in the individual.
  3. History of past suicide attempts in the individual.
  4. History of suicides or past suicide attempts within a family.
  5. History of drug/alcohol abuse.
  6. A very sudden shift from regular "down" mood to a feeling of elation. (Usually due to "seeing a final solution" to their pain, i.e. "suicide".
  7. Suicidal thoughts.
  8. Firm suicide plans.
  9. Access to weapons: guns, ammunition, knives, ropes, cords, belts, medications, poison.
And then the following are some protective factors which buffer against suicide, suicidal ideation and suicidal gestures:

Protective Factors:

  1. Family members close by. Someone living with the individual. Even a family pet.
  2.  A sense of "purpose" or mission for the individual.
  3. A belief in some kind of faith/religion.
  4. Someone/anyone to talk to, who will listen without judging.
Note also that in general men tend to use more lethal, permanent means for suicide, whereas generally, women use less lethal, less immediate means for suicide. Women of course are socialized more to reach out for help, whereas men unfortunately are not. Hence women may have more suicide attempts (in a bid either for attention or help) whereas men will not, but when planning for a suicide, men will use more irreversible means. So men will tend to use firearms more often, whereas women will use poison or cut their wrists.

So, for the average individual, even thinking or discussing the possibility of suicide with someone else may be scary whether you are the suicidee or the person who is trying to help.

If you are the person who is trying to help:

1. Don't freak out. As long as the person in front of you is in one piece and not harming themselves, you and they are okay. The most important thing: KEEP THEM TALKING. While they are talking, they can't be harming (usually).

2. Don't think that by asking if the person has a suicide plan, that it will make them act on it. On the contrary, for most suicidal people the fact that a person is even interested in what they are experiencing and wants to help.... this can often alleviate their pain and pull them back from suiciding. Don't be afraid to ask them if they feel like killing themselves or if they have a plan.

3. Ask the person to go to hospital. And accompany them. And call an emergency first-responder.

If you are the person who is feeling suicidal:

1. Call someone, preferably a mental health professional, or crisis line or even a friend and tell them you are in immediate crisis and are feeling like you are actively wanting to kill yourself.

All of this is very brief information and what I would call  a guideline. Suicide is much more complicated than this, especially if there are other factors involved. However some of the above is pretty basic.

For more information see the following websites (including the one attached to this blog,

1. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention:

2. In the U.S.: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

3. In the U.K., Russia, Ukraine and Poland and most of Europe:

Be aware that this is not a comprehensive list, but to be used as a starting point, especially if you or someone else is suffering from severe longterm depression.
Please also have a look at two other earlier posts: When Talking to Friends isn't enough, link here:

and Tips and Strategies for dealing with Anxiety and Depression, link

Most important of all, dear friends, KEEP TALKING!!!
The best way to avoid suicide for yourself and preventing it in others, is genuine concern and connection.
As I was thinking about this post I thought of a Stevie Nicks' song. Some may think it dated or even hokey, however, the lyrics point out something sincere -- to keep talking to your friends when you are feeling like you are sinking into that hole of depression. And if that doesn't work to talk to a professional. In fact, one comment on this video stated that a teenager remembered this song, especially when he was down and it was the ONLY thing that kept him from suiciding.
I post the lyrics with it, because Ms. Nicks, by her own admission, said this song was difficult to sing and the lyrics are what make the song so poignant.
Lyrics follow the video.

Enjoy, and keep talking and
Take Care,


I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

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I can see we're thinkin' bout the same things
And I can see your expression when the phone rings
We both know there's something happening here
Well, there's no sense in dancing round the subject
A wound gets worse when it's treated with neglect
Don't turn around there's nothing here to fear

You can talk to me
Talk to me
You can talk to me
You can set your secrets free, baby

Dusty words lying under carpets
Seldom heard, well must you keep your secrets
Locked inside hidden safe from view
Well, is it all that hard?
Is it all that tough?
Well, I've shown you all my cards now isn't that enough?
You can hide your hurt
But, there's something you can do:

You can talk to me
Talk to me... talk to me
I can set your secrets free, baby

Though we lay face to face and cheek to cheek
Our voices stray from the common ground where they
Could meet
The walls run high, to veil a swelling tear
Oh, let the walls burn down, set your secrets free
You can break their bounds, cause you're safe with me
You can lose your doubt, cause you'll find no danger
Not here

You can talk to me
Talk to me
You can talk to me
You can set your secrets free, baby

Oh, I can see you running... I can see you running
I can see you running all the way back home
I can see your expression when the phone rings
And I can see that you're thinkin' bout the same things
Is it all that hard?
Is it all that tough?
Well, you've taken all there is now baby
Isn't that enough?
Well, I can see you runnin'... I can see you runnin'
All the way back

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