As someone who laughed ‘til I was wheezing at Robin Williams’ antics, as someone who as a teenager considered suicide, as someone who is trained by the US Army in suicide prevention and intervention, and as someone who has intervened in the threatened-and-thankfully-prevented suicides of some, I was saddened to hear that on Monday “Mork” had hanged himself. Honestly, I was not all that surprised though. I do not claim to have an inside view of the life and times of Robin Williams. He was pretty public about his long-standing struggles with substances. However, when I was in theological school, I had a friend who knew Robin in high school in California, and I do know that Robin was a huge challenge for his father during the more-than-messed-up ‘60s and ‘70s.
I remember seeing the opening scene in a 1997 film he made with Billy Crystal entitled “Father’s Day.” In it, he has a pistol in his mouth, and before he pulls the trigger gets a call that interrupts his intention to end his life. Although to some he may have made it funny on some level, by that time I had already been involved in interventions, and way back somewhere in my emotions I had the feeling that the scene he was playing was probably way too close to reality. It made me squirm, and now I know why.
Statistically, when I was studying pastoral counseling at the graduate level, I learned that a full 66% of ALL Americans contemplate suicide at least once. Also, while women are 4 times more often the ones who threaten it, men are 4 times more often to follow through with it; guns and hanging being the methods of choice.
Regarding depression, amongst mental health professionals it is referred to as the “common cold of mental health.” Thankfully, most often it does not end like this.
To say that Robin Williams was a brilliant, tortured comedic artist is an understatement. He was also as good at playing the part of the funny guy as he was a serious character. On a very few occasions, he was the bad guy. Certain recurring themes wafted through his performances: huge issues with authority, becoming your best self, father hunger, suicide, but my personal favorite was his ability to reframe.
Reframing is essentially recasting a situation into a different light, and it is absolutely necessary in beating depression as well as suicide. An easy explanation would be something like the following: The pessimist rich kid gets a room full of toys on Christmas Day, and after playing with them briefly, starts complaining that he is bored and wants something more. The optimist poor kid gets led on Christmas Day to a stall full of horse manure and says, “With all this poop, there’s GOT to be a pony in here somewhere!”
Robin “re-framed” in Hook and rallied the Lost Boys. Robin “re-framed” in Aladdin and drew forth a prince. Robin “re-framed” in Jumanji and taped over his lonely past. And lastly, he most notably “re-framed” in Mrs. Doubtfire and became the father he had both longed to have and to be. I only wish he could have re-framed one more time and ultimately defeated his demons. Au revoir, Robin, we shall indeed miss you.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner