By now I'm sure you've all heard about the passing of actor/comedian Robin Williams last week. Unbeknownst to the general public at the time, Mr. Williams had suffered from depression on and off for years before taking his own life. It's an event that's played out all too often, especially among veterans.
As I've stated previously in this blog, I myself, am not a veteran. However, I retain close relationships with many within my family, friends, and other social circles. Because of this and my desire to study and understand human behavior, I'm often involved in conversations and reading material from a variety of sources that pertain to the military and stories and accounts of aftercare, the VA, ect. While I can, in no-way, have a perfect or complete understanding of military life or many of the post-service problems that arise, by educating myself as much as possible I'm enabled to better receive and communicate with my friends and family when and if I'm require too. Being that I'm married to and a caretaker for a veteran, this course of action has helped me to help her to the best of my ability many times over.
It is currently estimated that 22 veterans in the United States commit suicide every day. Twenty Two... That equates to 8030 veteran suicides a year. It's a number that seems so unbelievably high that it nearly betrays belief. However, that's 8030 families that are all too aware of exactly how believable it is. In the past few days I've seen the same question come up over and over. Why is the suicide of Robin Williams making so much news both in this country and around the world while the veteran suicide rate seems to be nothing more than a blip on the radar? I hope I can at least give a partial answer, or at least display some intelligence while conveying what my thoughts are.
The one main thing that Williams had that most, if not all the veterans don't have, is the vast connection with so many others. I'm not referring to family or friend connections. Williams connected with people all over the world. They saw him in movies, on tv, doing comedy, and making trips overseas to entertain the troops. He was very likable and came across as approachable. He was someone who you felt like you'd want to know. And he was real. He wasn't surrounded by a hoard of hangers on and didn't speak in the third person. When you saw him do an interview you felt as if you knew him. And that's why I believe his death has resonated with people the way it has. You felt as though you lost someone you knew personally. I never have much of a response to the death of a celebrity, suicide or otherwise. But Williams death was different, it did mean something to me.
Seeing Dead Poets Society when I was in my early teens and then again as I got older, made me think about things in a different way and perhaps in someways shaped the way I've made decisions in life. That's no small feat for anyone. The only other people that have had the effect on my life are my family and closest friends. You see, I don't think that his death is important to people simply because he's a celebrity; I think it's important to people because in some way he had an impact on their life. I'm positive all of the 22 vets who commit suicide daily have had impacts on the lives of others also, but it's not seen and therefore doesn't seem as personal. I don't believe that most people think losing 22 vets per day is unimportant, but it is my belief that they don't hold the same personal connection they felt with the Williams death and therefore it's simply not as important in their lives. This is not to degrade them or discount their service, it's simply human nature to react differently to the death of someone depending on the impact they've had in our lives.
A couple of years ago, perennial Pro-Bowl selection and likely future NFL Hall-Of-Famer Junior Seau committed suicide. He did so in a way that his brain would be left to science to be examined. At the time, the link between multiple blows to the head, TBI, and depression was still in it's infancy. There had been other former players that had also committed suicide but it was his death that awoke the public consciousness. Why? He had name recognition yes, but he also presented him self as a very likable person. An every man who was living his dream and unlike many athletes, who showed up to work hard everyday because he was aware of how lucky he was to be in that position. The news of his death hit the sports world like wild fire and then transferred over to the public at large. Since then a mountain of data has become available on the connection between TBI and emotions and strides are being made in treating people not only on the athletic field of play, but those involved in accidents involving head trauma as well as injuries received on the battlefield. Had it not been for his popularity and name recognition scientists might still be attempting to make the connections.
Why would I bring this up? Because I'm hoping the same thing can happen with the death of Robin Williams. Perhaps we can finally release depression from the prision of taboo subjects and some strides can be made as to the how's and why's and treatments that help solve the issues rather than simply treat the symptoms can become available. That soldiers and others can get the treatments they need without having to deal with the social stigma. If, after all, a man who seemed so happy and alive and took so much joy bringing others happiness can fall prey to such a horrible disease, can't anyone? It's time we knock down the barriers and have some open and honest conversations with each other about this disease. It's time we stopped looking at those with depression as somehow broken or unfit and realize that it can truly happened to anyone, soldiers and civilians alike. It's time we look around at each other and realize that it doesn't take that much fucking effort to ask someone how they're doing, to pick up the phone and give them a call, to tell them you're there to listen if they need you, or to simply tell them you love and care about them. And you know what, if the depression caused suicide of Robin Williams helps us to achieve those goals and others I'm likely forgetting, than the attention that his death has brought can't be a bad thing.