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Why Do People Become Suicidal?

Robin Williams
Robin Williams visits with U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John F. Campbell after the USO Holiday Tour show at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan on Dec.15, 2010.

By Alan Lyndon

Comedian Robin Williams died from asphyxia due to hanging, according to Lt. Keith Boyd of the Marin County, California Sheriff’s Office. The actor was found “suspended from the belt which was wedged between the door and the door frame in a seated position slightly suspended off the ground,” Boyd said.

No one knows exactly why Williams took his own life.  He had a history of drug and alcohol addiction and, according to his publicist, had recently sought treatment for depression.  While many questions will remain unanswered, the death of Robin Williams has already started an important conversation regarding mental health, depression and suicide.

Why do people become suicidal? Perceived burdensomeness and a sense of low belongingness are two states of mind that may contribute to suicidal tendencies, according to Stanley A. Edlavitch, PhD, MA, UMKC School of Medicine, and Patricia J. Byrns, BSN, MD, University of North Carolina. The Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide is “when people hold [those] two specific psychological states in their minds simultaneously, and when they do so long enough, they develop the desire for death,” Edlavitch and Byrns explained in the journal Crisis. “The process of repeatedly experiencing painful and otherwise provocative events enhances the ability to die by suicide.”

In separate research led by Alexandre Y. Dombrovski, MD, University of Pittsburgh, physicians said that “a propensity to make bad decisions may be part of one of the pathways to suicidal behavior.” According to the study published in JAMA Psychiatry, there is a direct “association of suicidal behavior with problem gambling and drug addiction, behaviors defined by disadvantageous choice.”

Williams quit cocaine and alcohol cold turkey in 1982 in anticipation of the birth of his first child.  He never used cocaine again, but battled alcohol addiction for 20 years including two trips to rehab, most recently this year.

For information on suicide prevention, take a look at the website of the National Institute of Mental Health.

The entertainment world lost a giant.  President Obama said of the loss:

Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between.  But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien — but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.  He made us laugh.  He made us cry.  He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.

This Physicians News story can be republished for free. (See details)

(Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff via Flickr)

One comment

  1. Indeed, one of the major causes of suicide is depression. People who are experiencing depression tend to divert their feelings through drinking alcohol and taking drugs. Because they desperately want to forget everything that makes them upset, they turn to these substances to make a quick escape. But when reality kicks in, their problem is still there. However, these will not help them to cope up with the depression and will just make their life more miserable. Sometimes attending Drug Addiction Rehab Washington (treatmentcarerecovery.com) is their option in overcoming their addiction but doesn’t assure addicts that they will have a successful recovery after the programs. Still, it depends on the person on how he/she is willing to change and how discipline he/she is in making his/her recovery possible

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