Robin William’s apparent suicide has catalyzed what U.S. News has called “a much-needed dialogue about mental health.” For example, blogger Matthew Walsh posted an entry titled “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.”
Matthew showcased his opinion in two main points.
“First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will…Second, we can debate medication dosages and psychotherapy treatments, but, in the end, joy is the only thing that defeats depression.”
Matthew Walsh (and those who agree with him) has received much criticism regarding his criticism of Robin William (and those who commit suicide). Walsh and his disciples fall into the category of “suicide-as-choice.”
Clinical psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and those intimately involved with the details of depression have clarified an alternate opinion: suicide-as-symptom.
Beyond Robin Williams, there are 16 million people in the U.S. who suffer from depression. Clinical psychiatrists and neuroscientists use the term “depression” with diagnostic precision, in order to better understand and treat this debilitating disease. Based on this work, the signs and symptoms of depression include at least 2 weeks of “sadness, loss of pleasure, loss of energy, social withdrawal, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts.”
Despite Matthew Walsh’s comments, adults are twice as likely to commit suicide as adolescents. Middle-aged adults are increasingly more likely to commit suicide. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says “Most suicides are preventable…sadly many who are at risk for attempting suicide never receive the treatment they need because of stigma, lack of access to care, or lack of knowledge about their symptoms.”
Suicide-as-symptom views suicide as a disease-related progression from suicidal thoughts to suicidal actions. While suicide is preventable with treatment and social support, such language is not intended to promote suicide-as-choice.
Suicide is not a choice in most cases, but an unhealthy progression of improper brain function. Neuroscientists at Columbia University have shown that people who attempt suicide have deficits in attention, learning and memory function–especially around the time of their attempted suicide. As a result of these deficits, people with suicidal thoughts make decisions they normally would not. As reported in the New York Times, people who survive their suicide attempt often regret their lapse of judgment.
Suicide-as-symptom explains why depression alone rarely causes suicide. In such cases, suicide is a progression of depression that leaves the victim unable to make sound choices.
If you or someone you know is battling depression and needs help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-(800) 273-8255.