by Rev. Alan Johnson
Perhaps it was Plato who wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I thought about this quote when I learned about the death of Robin Williams. Since attending a Christian service reflecting on his death and attending a mental health panel along with reading so many blogs and commentaries on his death, the quote makes even more sense.
While many people are trying to explain why he ended his life, that line of inquiry does not seem very helpful. Was it depression, or bipolar disorder, or substance abuse, or financial difficulties, or the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease? I think the only one who might be able to give a credible answer to “why” is Robin himself. Otherwise, we are looking in the dark trying to find some light.
When my younger brother ended his life, I truly did want to know why. He had been hospitalized for depression, he had a deeply blessed marriage, he was financially in good shape, he had a family that loved him, he had been given medication, and he was well respected in his field of work. I do not know why he died by suicide. I can give my hunches, but the curtain is closed on my understanding, and that ought to make me stop trying to explain it.
Still, we do seek explanations, especially for a public person like Robin Williams. His death can be a mirror to see how we ourselves are doing. How are things going for me? If not that great, perhaps there are steps I can take to benefit my body, my mind, my spirit. Perhaps another outcome of this search is that all of us can pay more attention to issues that come to the surface as we explore. For instance, each of us can see it as a wake-up call to become even more aware of what mental illnesses/brain disorders are. We can seek to understand the devastation that comes from substance abuse. We can learn more about physically disabling illness. We can learn about and see the signs and symptoms of such conditions. This will deepen our awareness with ourselves, as well as enrich our compassion towards those who live with these hard battles.
I am not suggesting that we become doctors, therapists or social workers. Rather, I am suggesting we work within our faith communities to raise awareness about mental health and the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses. We can educate ourselves and our congregations through a variety of programs and resources , including www.NAMI.org, www.inmi.us, www.samsha.org, www.pathways2promise.org, www.mhn-ucc.blogspot.com, and www.mentalhealthministries.net.
When my family got around to figuring out what to say about how my brother died, we realized that we had to face it front on. People needed the truth. It was this quote that helped us. “Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” I can barely imaging the pain that my brother was experiencing and perhaps what was happening for Robin Williams, too, when they ended their lives. All that I know is that I need to be kind. Kind to everyone I meet. There are invisible battles that are being fought, and they are hard.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.