Two greats of screen and stage have died this week, Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. The latter from old age; 89 is a good long time in which ups and downs are sure to have been experienced but Ms Bacall will be remembered for glamour, and whether she wished it or not, for her on-off romance with Humphrey Bogart.
But for Mr Williams at 63, from death by suicide, it is a sad shortening of a luminous and brilliant life. A man whose energy and comedic talent has been admired by many around the world.
I do not presume to offer reasons for, or musings about, Robin Williams’ suicide. What truly do any of us know of the drivers that lead someone to such a decision? Which is why the likes of some commentators, despite whether or not they might have once crossed paths with the actor, shouldn’t either. Both Rush Limbaugh and Shep Smith have shown an incredible callousness, and lack of respect, for the feelings of Robin Williams’ family in what must be a ghastly, ghastly time.
Rush Limbaugh on his radio show, made, even for him, crass and ill-educated comments, pondering whether Mr Williams’ “political leftist” state of mind was essentially a cause for depression. He expounded, “If you had to attach, not a philosophy, but an attitude to a leftist world view, it’s one of pessimism, and darkness, sadness. They’re never happy, are they?” And yet Mr Limbaugh, a stalwart of the extreme right of American thought, has also been quoted as saying, “I sometimes wish I weren’t as logical as I am and I wish I weren’t as smart as I am, because I’d be happy.” A comment that makes one wonder what state of mind he is really in.
Fox News, despite having made Mr Smith apologise for his inept peregrinations of the mind, must wonder about the efficacy of their HR department in hiring a man who has so little understanding of the vagaries of human nature. His words, “And yet something inside you is so horrible – or you’re such a coward, or whatever the reason – that you decide you have to end it” surely go a level of such insensitivity as to be just plain ignorant. Whether or not Mr Smith really regrets “to the core of his being” his comments on wondering how anyone could kill themselves if they loved, and were loved in return, is something only he knows.
Who can possibly know, let alone understand, what drives a person to take his or her own life? And who are we, any of us, to decry their actions? We can’t possibly understand the agony they are going through. We can only mourn their death, feel infinite sorrow for their families, and then put greater effort, energy and funds into finding ways to help people suffering from debilitating depression; an illness that can affect anyone, a mother, a father, a child, from any socio-economic group, from any country.
Those involved with depression and mental health have talked of the concern that has been sparked by the image from the film, Aladdin, unwittingly circulated this week with the words, ‘genie you’re free’. Bob Gebbia of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has said, “Research (is) clear: inappropriate messaging of deaths by suicide can trigger others to attempt suicide.” In effect a copycat syndrome, which could make those vulnerable believe it is the only way to escape their demons.
The famous, and the infamous, the ones we the public read about, are not alone in taking their own lives. We need to think of all those people teetering on the edge of reason, and the families of those who have stepped off the ledge, before we start giving public voice to private matters about which we have no knowledge.
As that leftist-of-leaning man, Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use.” Would that these commentators used a little sympathy, respect and compassion.
Links: Australia – www.lifeline.org Tel: 13 11 14
UK – www.samaritans.org Tel: 08457 90 90 90
US – www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org Tel: 1 800 273 8255