The little voice that says “Jump”: On Robin Williams’ suicide

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about depression. It started with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s suicide and now Robin Williams’ death has made it clear to me that there is something very wrong with the way we live our lives. For if people as beautiful and amazing as these two were left with no option but to take their lives, there must be something amiss given our potential for compassion and love.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not someone who thinks that suicide is an act of cowardice or a cry for help. I fact, I believe it is the most difficult thing a human being could ever have to do and it takes enormous courage to finally end your own life. It is a completely private decision whose legitimacy must not (even though it always is) be questioned by any person, state, or religion. There are times when companionship, or words or medication cannot help and beyond that point, it is really a question of choice, one that I fully respect.

What we often wonder when we hear of a suicide is “Why?”. That unfortunately is not the question that we should be asking nor one that matters at all. We condemn and bemoan suicides so vehemently because they unsettle our carefully constructed illusions about the world we live in. We hush it all up and judge people who are suicidal, make laws to criminalize suicide because at the end of the day we have no idea how to deal with a person who simply does not want to live anymore and finds the prospect of death far more pleasant.

But because suicide is deemed a thing we must not talk about, a large part of an individual’s mental health issues too go unnoticed or more often than not, are ignored. When we render a person thinking about suicide weak and irrational, we automatically forego the chances of being able to diagnose clinical depression which is not a personal failure or fault on the person’s part.

Instead there are so many social, psychological, and biological causes that lead to depression. I truly believe, our society has stigmatized mental illness and unhappiness so much that today we don’t even fully comprehend what it entails to be contemplating suicide. Every time we hear of someone’s suicide, we think, “Oh, I wish I’d known. I might have been able to help,” but the fact is that we always know; instead we choose to believe that its a passing phase, or are reluctant to express love and friendship.

Our lives are so connected on social media but offline, we are utterly disconnected from each other and the environment that we live in. In this endless cycle of consumption and hedonism we don’t even pause to understand the problems that plague our own families, friends and our planet. Look at our world today — every day there is a new war in Gaza or Iraq or Syria. News reports are full of crimes of mindless anger and hate based on religion, gender, caste, nationalism or race.

We live in an age of anxiety and fear where we are simultaneously committed to not speaking about how we truly feel and what we can do to make our lives better. Entire lifetimes are spent begrudging parents, or partners or states without once trying to create causes for positive change. We are the children of the flower generation but clearly, we learnt nothing from them, for no longer are we willing to imagine the world as a better place and take action to be there for each other.

If there is anything that I can take from the news of Williams’ suicide is that the happiest faces often mask the greatest sadness. He lived his life trying to make others happy and helping people who were truly desolate. But I think the bravest thing he did was to talk about his struggles with depression and addiction. In several interview he spoke about dealing with periodic bouts of depression and relapse into alcohol abuse, for both of which he sought help frequently. “It’s the same voice thought that…you’re standing at a precipice and you look down, there’s a voice and it’s a little quiet voice that goes, ‘Jump,’” Williams said in an interview on Good Morning America.

If we struggle through something, you must talk about it. I struggled with depression and continue to suffer from an anxiety disorder. By speaking about it I realised that several of my friends deal with the same issues and knowing that there is a community and support system out there that understands exactly what I go through has helped me immensely. That’s why its so important that if we were ever in a dark place in our heads which it tooks us years to get out of, we share it with the people around us. Because the best way you can help someone is to show them that what you were able to find a way out of it.

The article was first published in Newsyaps in August 2014. The website has since shut down.