Genie, you’re free

As I write this column, news is breaking of comedian Robin Williams’ death by suicide. But why would the actor/comedian take his own life? He struggled with addiction throughout his life and recent revelations Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease adds more questions than answers. But the news was true shock with disbelief and sadness, like losing a member of the family. The news channels offer non-stop coverage, showing clips of classic moments in his incredible career. My first introduction to Williams’ brand of manic comedy was in the 1970s, when he shot to stardom on the TV sit-com Mork and Mindy. It was a role he was either born to play or which was written especially for him. Like one of those old wind-up toys wound too tight, his boundless energy, incredible creative ad-libs and quick wit was like nothing we have seen before or since. About the closest was Dayton’s own comedic genius – an idol of Williams’ – Jonathan Winters. But Williams was Winters on speed. The two even worked together on TV. After watching Robin Williams guesting on Letterman, Kimmel, Ellen and others, you were literally exhausted. But, why is a guy who made millions of us so happy with laughter and pleasure unable to do it for himself? Why would someone who outwardly appears happy, fun to be around and firing on all cylinders with a successful career take his own life? One word: depression. It’s a word that makes some cower and cringe, a misunderstood condition that sometimes elicits embarrassment and shame. If someone has cancer or another debilitating health issue, we normally reach out for care and comfort. Not so with depression. I’m not sure if its ignorance or misunderstanding, but it should and needs to be treated by others in the same way. Williams’ death could change that fact. It’s a tight-focused tragedy, but last week, suicide researchers expressed hope the case may bring wider attention to one of humankind’s oldest and most secretive killers. They agree there’s potential for a much-needed public tipping point, a moment that pushes suicide awareness into the mainstream like AIDS after the death of Rock Hudson, or heroin after the overdose of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Matthew Nock, a Harvard professor of psychology and one of the world’s leading suicide researchers, was recently quoted as saying, “It’s a really big problem, but the funding for suicide research and prevention just pales in comparison to cancer and AIDS, because of the stigma associated with it.” The deep despair and hopelessness that goes along with depression can make suicide feel like the only way to escape the pain. Thoughts of death or suicide are a serious symptom of depression, so take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It’s not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide: it’s a cry for help. According to the experts, some warning signs include talking about killing or harming one’s self, or expressing strong feelings of hopelessness or being trapped. An unusual preoccupation with death or dying, acting recklessly, as if they have a death wish with devil-may-care activities. Calling or visiting people to say goodbye, getting affairs in order, saying things like, “Everyone would be better off without me” or, “I want out.” A sudden switch from being extremely depressed to acting calm and happy. If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, express your concern and seek professional help immediately. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life! But, unfortunately for the many who are contemplating, they have their mind already made up. Our family has been affected by suicide; a friend from way back, one of my kids’ playmates. It is just devastating to those left behind, but can you imagine the torture and pain going through a person to think the only way out, the only way to stop the hurt, is to end their life. I’ve always said good does come out of something bad, and I also agree this high-profile suicide will keep the conversation going. It’s up to us to do so in this 24-hour news cycle world where in two weeks it will be “old news.” It is ironic Williams, with his zany brand of improv stand-up comedy and manic genius, who could make millions around the world laugh and feel good about themselves couldn’t do the same for himself. Let’s keep the conversation going. It’s the least we could do, to celebrate a life that brought so much joy to us all. Buch A regionally known and loved local television icon for over 25 years, “Buch’s” followers describe him as trust-worthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention!

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