Was Robin WIlliams’ Suicide Selfish?

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Alongside the regular mourning of Robin Williams’ untimely passing there has arisen a more unhealthy banter regarding suicide and depression. In many cases this discussion is positive; it provides hotlines and websites for people to visit if they need help and brings up mental health issues.

On the other side of the debate are the people talking about how you can’t be depressed if you have money and family and how selfish suicide is. I don’t want to address that whole group here because many of them don’t care to try and understand the nuances of mental illness. The subset whom I would like to address are those who have been through struggles with mental illness maybe even suicidal thoughts who believe that they have a right to say suicide was selfish because they have had depression and know what it’s like. The style of argument is similar to people of a certain race wanting to use words that are deemed as derogatory to that race. In some ways this is right – any individual has the right to use and reclaim and word or belief they want, but they cannot push it on others. If I, for example, want to reclaim the word cunt because I do not find it offensive then I am welcome to do as I please but I shouldn’t push that onto others. That means not using the word in front of those whose views or backgrounds I don’t know.

Suicide and depression are the same thing. If someone wants to say they didn’t commit suicide because it would have been selfish and they are proud they did “the right thing” then that is perfectly valid. They should not, however, force that approach on others. Just because you did not kill yourself when you wanted to doesn’t mean you know anything about how it feels for someone else. Everyone’s life is different, the support systems, the history, the medical care, even the way the depression hits. We cannot assume anything.

Just to be clear this is valid for all aspects of mental illness and trauma. Just because you experiences the same trauma as another person and feel fine now doesn’t mean they’re weak or lazy for still struggling with it.

 
This should be obvious. If mental illnesses were all the same then the same medications would work for everyone; this isn’t even true for a disease so comparatively simple and well understood as diabetes.

We can’t keep going around telling those who are struggling that they are selfish for feeling that way or wanting to act on it. We cannot know what anyone but ourselves are feeling (and even that is difficult sometimes!). Let’s stop blaming and attacking those who struggled and are still struggling; it’s so much worse when this blame comes from someone who has experienced it too. It’s more important to stop this happening in the future by helping people who need it.

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