I came upon a Facebook status from a friend the night the awful news was announced, getting on a bit of a high horse at the fact that he had read more posts about Robin Williams death in the past few hours than he had read about the dying children of Gaza, and how wrong that is.
This kind of shit is annoying for a variety of reasons that would distract from the point of this post. But I will say that people who sit in their comfy apartments in safe North American cities a million miles away from war posting on Facebook about how awful war is, who then feel the need to call out everyone else for caring about the suicide of an entertainer who spent his entire career making people feel better – really just need to shutthefuckup and do some reflecting on their faux Facebook compassion.
Another friend pointed out how it comes off as sociopathic to not understand why so many people who grew up watching Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Aladdin, Patch Adams, Flubber etc could feel emotionally connected to an actor enough to be truly sad that they took their own life. And it kind of is.
Of course we feel sad about it. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about what’s happening on the other side of the world, just because we’re not blabbing about it making judgements from Facebook all day. I’m well aware that the wars happening in Israel, Syria and Iraq are terrifying and devastating – note, it’s not JUST happening in Gaza – Facebook evangelists. I realize there is also a horribly fucked up issue with unarmed African American kids being killed by cops in the States. Yes, the world is a scary place right now and all these things deserve media attention.
But we generally post on our personal Facebook about things we feel a direct connection to. And thankfully, most of us up in Canada are not personally connected to those wars. On the other hand, we all grew up watching Robin Williams.
We all imagined him as our own dad in so many of those movies. We all imagined him as our greatest teacher in Dead Poets Society. As the psychiatrist we could only dream of being lucky enough to find in Good Will Hunting. As the Genie who granted our wishes in Aladdin.
A person we felt connected to, who touched our lives directly through his characters, is gone, and it leaves an overwhelmingly empty feeling.
Some people always feel the need to act high and mighty when others care if a celebrity dies, and in some ways I understand that “You didn’t even know them, they’re just people too..” mentality. But there are some entertainers who literally are responsible for saving our lives through their art – and Robin Williams was definitely, easily one of those. He wasn’t just another celebrity. He was the kind of talent the world so rarely sees, and likely will never experience again. The idea of a one of a kind talent always seemed like such bullshit to me, but looking back on the versatility of his work makes it easy to see he deserved such a label.
Could anyone else in the world have pulled off Mrs. Doubtfire? Doubtful.
I also want to mention something I read on this website:
We were saddened to hear of the suspected suicide of Robin Williams, our hearts go out to his family and friends who should be left to grieve in peace.
Suicide is characterised here in the UK, as it is in the US and for almost every nation except China, by a three, four or even five to one ratio of male to female deaths. In 2012, the last date for which we have figures, 77% of all suicides were male. It is the single biggest killer of men aged 20-49 in the UK. Given the disproportionate number of male suicides, in every age band, we hope that the media will explore the relevance of gender rather than just focusing and speculating on the minutiae of Robin’s life in examining this issue.
This might be one of the most important things I’ve read since his passing. It struck me when a friend mentioned feeling hopeless in the face of his death – because if even he can’t make it – what chance does that give for the rest of us who struggle with depression? When she first mentioned this, I feared that his death might push her back into that dark place, but almost immediately I thought to myself not to worry too much, because she’s not male, so she will have a significantly better chance of bouncing back if it does return. That sounds crass, and as someone who struggled with suicidal thoughts as a preteen I do not downplay the fact that both men and women reach that awful end point.
But the stats are overwhelming. And I think it’s something that really does need to be discussed because the fact is, men are obviously at a much higher risk of actually sinking that low and not seeing another way out.
And why is that?
That is a big conversation that really needs to happen.
There is research that needs to be done. There is a stigma around depression and being depressed that seems to be much more taboo in male culture. It’s like admitting you are a Beta male instead of an Alpha, and sadly there is still a lot of shame around that – and there shouldn’t be. Because it makes them more afraid to seek help. More likely to self medicate with booze and drugs. More likely to hide the way they feel. More likely to take their depression out in self destructive ways. More likely to bottle up and explode.
The fact is, when it comes to depression and suicide, the gender issue needs to be a part of the conversation. Too many good men are gone because they are embarrassed to seek help. They think it’s not masculine to admit something is wrong, to talk with a doctor or therapist about their feelings. So they succumb to this other option when they can no longer handle those feelings. Of course, depression is not a gender specific disease – but there is clearly a problem that’s skewing the suicide stats so far in their direction. I think it might have something to do with their different brain chemistry, and even more to do with the cultural standards men are supposed to live up to – and the pressure they feel to be beacons of strength despite their innate vulnerability.
RIP Robin. Thanks for being my psychologist when I was a severely depressed and angry 12 year old enduring daily bullying that made my life a living hell. Not sure I would have made it out of grade school alive were it not for the wisdom and compassion you showed Will Hunting. Until that scene, I really did believe it was my fault.
For anyone who somehow doubts it, movies save lives. That is why we all care so much about someone whose life we couldn’t save in return.