On Monday, Robin Williams passed away of an apparent suicide. As we remember the many amazing ways in which he enriched media and culture with his comedy and acting, we should also take a look at what drove Robin’s actions to his untimely death. Robin identified as an alcoholic early in life, all the way back to his days in his hometown. As he gained celebrity status, he also came to battle cocaine addiction. His drug and alcohol abuse ran rampant until the death of John Belushi - also from drug addiction - in 1982, after which Robin said he remained sober for 20 years. In 2006, Robin entered rehab for drinking, and sought treatment again as recently as June of this year. Questions that come to mind to all of us:
Why did this happen, especially to someone who seems to have had everything? Alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as mood issues such as depression have genetic, physical, and environmental triggers. There is no one single cause. A core precept of alcohol recovery is that alcoholism is a disease; you are always in recovery, never cured.
Did no one see the kind of place Robin was in? He did go into treatment multiple times. This highlights the importance not only of communicating regularly and deeply with our loved ones, but being able to identify signs and symptoms that indicate the need for care. Related to this, it is critical to have a full continuum of care: from 24 / 7 help in inpatient or residential treatment environments for crises and acute situations and aftercare programs that offer ongoing support and maintain recovery.
How did the addiction and depression issues interrelate? There is a concept in mental health treatment of “co-occurring disorders”. A person can have depression or anxiety issues from a young age, or develop them later in life as a result of a traumatic event. Some men and women then turn to drug abuse as a coping mechanism. That is why modern treatment focuses on addressing all elements of a person’s mental health, to get at the root of the original issues. Treating only the addiction without the mental health component leads to higher rates of relapse. Robin himself, in a 2009 interview, said he had previously failed to confront the core issues at the root of his addictions, contributing to his own return to rehab.
All mental health and addiction treatment programs offer free, confidential screenings that you should take advantage of if you feel even the slightest need, and will help you find the most appropriate care for yourself or your loved one. Inpatient programs also offer immediate services for those battling with suicidal ideations.
Our hearts go out to Robin’s family. This is a reminder to all of us to remember to communicate with our loved ones regularly, and seek professional care and support when it may be needed.
Contributed by Pacific Grove Hospital, a leading treatment center in Riverside.
Published: Aug. 14, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 18