Was Robin Williams Suicide a Selfish Act?

by Bill Brenner on August 13, 2014

The death of actor Robin Williams has left many in shock, myself included. I can’t imagine a world without his talents, and the nature of his death has brought all my old memories of depression and suicide back into focus.

A couple friends have suggested that Williams committed a selfish act that will ravage his friends and family for years to come. I can see where that line of thinking comes from. After my best friend killed himself in 1996, I felt the same way. I resented and hated him for doing it. But my perspective is different today.

Mood music:

My friend’s suicide and my own struggle with depression over the years compelled me to do a lot of research about what makes the brain tick. One lesson: Those who commit suicide are under such distress that they are essentially severed from reality. Much like an addict feeds the demon because they can’t help it, even though they know they could die, people with severe depression are compelled to throw the kill switch because they are blinded to everything around them. The brain is essentially broken, no longer able to process things as they really are.

I have no idea what Williams was going through in recent months, but I suspect this is what was happening to him.

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Was he selfish for wanting to end it? To the extent that he wanted peace for himself and to escape the noise in his head, yes. Was he selfish to his family and friends for forcing them to deal with the pain his passing will cause? That’s a lot harder to parse.

I don’t think anyone with depression sets out to hurt people and leave them behind. When pain overwhelms and chokes off reason, you tend to lose the ability to see those around you.

I’ve never contemplated suicide, but I’ve been depressed enough that I couldn’t see the people in my presence. They could be there talking to me, but all I’d hear is the wind. The brain completely turns in on itself, causing a destructive, sometimes unstoppable chain reaction.

Only Williams knows what was going through his head at the time of death, so I’m not going to judge.

I’m just going to appreciate the life I have today and live it to the full. That will include the regular enjoyment of all the great movies the actor left behind.

robin williams in the fisher kingRobin Williams in The Fisher King, one of my favorites among his movies.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

fredt August 13, 2014 at 11:26 am

selfish? Wrong question, useless question, question that show lack of understanding about the state that drives on to suicide. At that point, nobody has time for us. We are shut out at every turn. It has little to do with us, and much more to do with the busy people around us.

It is more about the inability of us to modulate our own dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, and similar hormones. It is about not letting anyone know how little we know about what we know about our own mood control. It is about protection of the self, and not knowing what the “I” is.

It can also be a rational act in a irrational situation, when there is know end but death in the situation.

But then what do I know of this subject. I am still here.

Jone August 13, 2014 at 11:33 am

Thank you for the line explaining, “he was so distressed…..severed from reality”. And, like you say, “only Williams knows”. May he rest in peace.
(My mother always said, “Don’t cry for the dead, cry for the living who suffer.” – I cry for everyone.)
I woke up this morning and my first thought was that Robin Williams might have had a good day today.
I watched his clips on TV appearances – I might be imagining it, but he had a sorrowful look to him – like in his eyes. Maybe. —Just sooo sad.

Bert Knabe August 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Thanks for the incredible insight into the what depression does. I’m not sure an act performed when you are barely (at most) even aware that the act will affect others could be called selfish.

Cindi Basiliere August 13, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Depression is a very difficult illness to understand, until you have witnessed it or you suffer from it yourself. I never ever believed depression was an illness until it happened to me. And I didn’t even know it until my physician recognize it, thank God, early enough for me to take steps to deal with it. Everybody goes through hard times at one time or another and most of the time manage to get through it. But reading about some causes of depression, that it can be caused by some difficult childhood experiences that you think you have been forgotten about, that it is still there because it gets compounded with more difficult situations to deal with. I did have some problems in my childhood at times with other classmates making fun of me at times. Divorce, rejection from what I thought were my friends, Leon’s illness all were part of a contributing factor in. Most are able to handle it, but there are some that can’t. Some can be worse off than others. No one will probably ever know what exactly threw Robin Williams over the edge. But if anything that has been gained by his unfortunate demise, is I see there might be hope for others as well myself me to realize that it is worth to continue to fight this depression. Having a large caring family is definitatly an asset. It was the love of my family that kept me from “throwing in the towel” twice. Thank you my dear nephew for opening the eyes of others to all of this and to know we share a difficult battle, and we are able to continue to be strong through the love of family.

jone August 14, 2014 at 10:04 am

I thought God wasn’t supposed to give us more than we could handle.

Natalie Pineau September 1, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Thanks Bill. I had my share of hard times in my life, more than once. Know one knows what goes inside your mind, but you. I don’t think that anyone who commits suicide is a coward, I think they are a lost soul…and that is very sad

Lisa Beth September 6, 2014 at 11:09 am

Jone, your comment is not Biblical, it is a human adage that lacks real foundation. The promises of God through Jesus Christ are valid for those who put their trust in Him – whose lives are surrendered to Him. Jesus Christ, our Savior and advocate, goes before those who get behind Him.

Brenda December 27, 2014 at 4:04 am

As far as selfish act of suicide. I think some may actually believe they are doing the world a favor by leaving it. Feeling guilty they are polluting others with their sadness.

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