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Robin Williams’ death opens public discussion on suicide

Actor and comedian Robin Williams died Aug. 11.  Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Actor and comedian Robin Williams died Aug. 11.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

On Aug. 11, the news of Robin Williams’ death spread swiftly throughout social media and various news outlets. As more information was gathered surrounding the actor and comedian’s death, the seemingly familiar conversation about mental health and depression became mainstream on many fronts. And some journalists, bloggers and socialites began to try and answer the sometimes tough question that follow such occasions, the question of “Why?”

“The one thing that I have a problem with, if you take a close look at how the media reported on his death, it was simplified,” said Amelia Aldao, a psychology assistant professor at Ohio State. “Everyone wanted a reason, whether it was his Parkinson’s disease, or something else. If you look at the data though, it is never just one reason. It is usually a mental disorder.”

After Williams’ death, details emerged that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease — a nervous system disorder that leads to shaking and difficultly with walking and other movements.

But Aldao said she’s seen something positive stem from Williams’ death: people have been talking about an issue that is often regarded as taboo.

“(Williams’ death) got all of us talking about the issue, about mental health,” Aldao said. “In a way, it helps foster conversation about that which usually has a very large stigma.”

Positive conversation, as well as the appropriate mourning of someone’s passing because of suicide, does not increase the chance that those suffering from depression will attempt suicide as well, she said.

“The data is just not there,” Aldao said. “It raises conversation and that always has a positive impact within the communities that are having these conversations. Even within a student body.”

OSU offers several outlets for those with depression — one of which is its Counseling and Consultation Service.

Counseling is available to currently enrolled undergraduate, graduate and professional students, according to the service’s website.

The service has a range of offerings, from individual counseling — which involves one student and one counselor — to group seasons and focused workshops, said Micky Sharma, the service’s director.

If a student wishes to take advantage of the service, a phone screening can be scheduled where a student would be called within three days by a counselor who would help assess the best means by which to help, Sharma said. If an issue can’t wait, immediate help is available as well, he said.

To get the mental health conversation growing, Sharma said it’s best to raise awareness and prevention.

That is, in part, done through the OSU Suicide Prevention Program, which offers services like REACH training to students, staff and faculty.

REACH is an acronym to teach students, faculty and staff how to deal with depression. It stands for: recognize warning signs of suicide risk, engage the person at risk with empathy, ask a person if he or she is thinking about suicide, communicate hope and help the person access mental health resources, said Matt Fullen, a graduate administrative associate with the program.

“Last year we trained over 1,400 members of the Ohio State campus community,” he said.

This includes training of resident hall advisers and other peer-to-peer outreach programs, Fullen said.

On Tuesday, however, a popular post on the OSU subreddit on Reddit — a social media, news and discussion website ­— was that of someone asking where to get help for depression.

But at least one student said she felt having to navigate a website to get help might be asking too much.

“It’s not that students don’t know the help is there. It is just that if I needed help, or knew someone who needed help, I don’t know if I would quickly know where to get it,” said Lindsay Hostetler, a second-year in atmospheric sciences. “It needs to be advertised more. Someone who is depressed should already know where to get help when the depression hits.”

Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation Service can be reached at 614-292-5766. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

One comment

  1. I allow for the possibility that the University leadership is well intentioned, but also for the possibility they are merely trying to cover their own posteriors, but in my opinion secular counseling devoid of Christian truth and hope is simply insufficient. I suffered what “experts” called a panic attack. Those experts diagnosed both physiological and psychological depression and hyper-anxiety. Their answer was talking and pills. My answer was Christ and responsibility. I had others who depended upon me, and I did not own my own body. I had been bought by the shed blood of Christ and my body was now the Temple of God, indwelt by His Holy Spirit. God alone knows the Truth of each heart, mind, and spirit, though His Word teaches many will profess Him who know Him not. I believe my knowing that I was no longer my own, but was His, prevented me from taking a life I did not own. I believe true Christians will not kill themselves, for it would not be suicide for us, it would be murder, a direct and deliberate sin against God.

    For everyone who even thinks about ending their life, I urge you to reach out to everyone you think may be a Christian, someone who you see living differently than most others. True Christian counseling may offer infinitely more than secular or humanists may offer for Christian counselors will offer you the “bread of Life, living water,” and the only Savior able to save eternally, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    To the University leaders, and those who choose them and their replacements, I urge you to open your hearts and minds to Christ, make Him welcome again on your campuses … and in your lives.

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