By Mike Mitchell, clinical director at Crisis & Counseling Centers
Humor is a valuable commodity in the work we do at Crisis & Counseling Centers, treating individuals struggling with mental health, substance abuse and co-occurring disorders.
Changing lives isn’t always easy, especially since we provide support and counseling to people fighting some of the darkest demons imaginable.
I value the connections that come from sharing a laugh or meeting a smile in the hall. I have found that caring, kindness and hope can be invaluable for most people struggling with addiction and mental health conditions. Being able to have a heartfelt laugh can also lighten the load.
Laughter is a precious gift that adds richness to our lives. Being brought to laughter by someone blessed with the ability to make raw self-disclosure funny to the point of tears and the ordinary details of life hilarious is the mark of true genius. For me, that was Robin Williams.
Hearing the news about Williams’ death was like learning about the passing of a childhood friend – someone you have had a long history with and had lost touch within recent years, but always enjoyed when he was around. I have followed Williams’ career from his early days and knew that he struggled with mental illness and addiction.
Upon learning about his death from suicide, I immediately thought, “We’ve lost another one” – another soul lost to the challenges of living with co-occurring disorders.
As if the tragic loss of Williams were not bad enough, the manner in which the authorities and the national media have revealed the details about his death may have exacerbated the damage to our national psyche. They may have made an unimaginably heartbreaking situation even worse by ignoring best-practice protocols about how to address these situations effectively.
There are long-established standards about how the media should handle suicides to minimize suicide contagion or “copycat” phenomenon after a high-profile death by suicide. These standards stress the importance of minimizing the glorification or “how-to” aspects of suicide, in favor of information that educates the public about suicide prevention and treatment options.
More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The administration recommends that news outlets avoid descriptive and graphic language, headlines and images that may be paradoxically glorified.
The national media could provide an important role during a crisis like this, helping to educate and inform the public, offering information to those seeking help, and fostering a cathartic mood. Instead, however, the media have focused on gruesome details. They have badgered Williams’ family and left us feeling, if anything, even more alone.
Well, we are not alone.
Williams faced the same struggles with addiction and depression that many of our friends, family members and neighbors may face. His death encourages us to be there for that person immersed in his or her own struggles, for whom death feels like the only logical way out.
Hope is the key to survival, whether a person is dealing with addiction, depression or the overwhelming demands of life. People should have hope that the next day will be better, not as hard and worth the perseverance. Hope promises that life is worth living and that real alternatives exist to death as a solution to the pain.
Anyone who is worried that someone they know may be suicidal should say something – let that person know about their concern. Anyone who feels that death is the only solution to the ongoing pain should talk to someone – a friend, family member or professional about alternatives to suicide.
The Maine Crisis Network is available 24/7 at 1.888.568.1112. A variety of online resources also are available to learn more about suicide prevention, including suicidepreventionlifeline.org, afsp.org, and veteranscrisisline.net.
This article originally appeared in the Kennebec Journal Opinion section on Aug. 15, 2014.