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Robin Williams' Suicide Highlights Stigma of Mental Illness

PHOTO: Robin Williams was known during his life as a brilliant comedian and actor, and advocates for mental health say his tragic death could serve to bring greater understanding to the issues of mental illness. Photo credit: S. Jurveston/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: Robin Williams was known during his life as a brilliant comedian and actor, and advocates for mental health say his tragic death could serve to bring greater understanding to the issues of mental illness. Photo credit: S. Jurveston/Wikimedia Commons.
August 13, 2014

BRIGHTON, Mich. - Many Michiganders are still reeling from the news that acclaimed comedian Robin Williams, who spent part of his childhood in metro Detroit, took his own life this week. Experts say his death highlights the secrecy and stigma that still accompany mental illness.

Many people think of depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses as nothing more than a bad mood or a case of the blues, said Laura Edwards, who lost her 12-year-old son to suicide in 2003 and now runs the Michigan survivor outreach program for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"It should be right in the same category as cancer, diabetes," she said. "It's an illness, and I think that's what needs to be brought into the light, more and more."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, with nearly 40,000 reported cases each year. Edwards said help is available and anyone who has had suicidal thoughts or knows someone who has should call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Those who have called Williams "selfish" for taking his own life only serve to highlight how misunderstood mental illness really is, she said, adding that he should be seen as just as brave as anyone who battled cancer or any other disease.

"The fact that he lived with that, and hid it, and did so many wonderful things fighting that illness, every single day - he was more like fighting a dragon, every single day," Edwards said. "He put on his armor, he got out his sword, and he fought mental illness every single day. He was a hero."

The CDC estimates that someone in America dies from suicide almost every 14 minutes.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI