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Death of Robin Williams may raise awareness of depression, suicide prevention

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WATERTOWN — It was an end fundamentally different from the way we had come to know the man: final, quiet, shocking, sad.

There were none of the manic tics or gesticulations, impossible to describe, or the warm, kind-hearted moments of reflection that typified his Academy Award-winning career to soften the blow. There was no laughter to mark the final act of a comedic genius.

But the death of Robin Williams may be redeemed, not only by his singular body of work, but by the awareness his apparent suicide will bring to the mental health field, according to north country providers and national suicide prevention advocates.

“The elevated public conversation coming out of this very tragic loss is that people who are out there who may be already concerned about someone, this opens up a way to seek information or help and there may be a positive,” said Robert T. Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The foundation reported record numbers of visitors to its website in the wake of media reports about Mr. Williams’s death, according to Mr. Gebbia, and calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline doubled in the 24 hours following the news.

Mr. Williams’s death came after decades of a sometimes public struggle with depression and substance abuse.

“Here’s a person who generations have followed, through TV and films and plays and everything else, he’s had such a sustained career,” Mr. Gebbia said.

“There is this myth that people who are successful and have money and have everything going for them, well, they wouldn’t do this,” Mr. Gebbia said. “But depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, these things can be devastating and they can be fatal. It still comes as a shock. How could this have happened to him?”

“This type of a situation can certainly bring to light the importance of identifying warning signs and the prevalence of depression,”said Timothy J. Reutten, coordinator of mental health services for the Jefferson County Department of Community Services. “It can open up a discussion that wasn’t there before.”

In St. Lawrence County, Community Services has not noticed an uptick in people seeking mental health counseling because of the suicide of Mr. Williams but such incidents do alert families who notice symptoms to think about initiating services, Community Services Director Angela M. Doe said.

Signs that might indicate suicidal thoughts include fluctuating emotions, isolation, increased crying and sleeping, hygiene issues and disconnection, she said.

In Lewis County, Mr. Williams’s death has given providers a chance to make the community aware of the services they offer and may help to renew interest in establishing a formal prevention coalition.

Sarah J. Bullock, Lewis County Community Service Director, said that the county has been working for the last year to create a Suicide Prevention Coalition that will incorporate community service providers and the general public to help them identify people who might be at risk through different signs and signals.

“It is important, if a Lewis County resident is feeling depressed or has suicidal thoughts to get help at a mental health center and use the crisis hotline,” Mrs. Bullock said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Times staff writers Martha Ellen and Whitney Randolph contributed to this report.

WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE

Talking about wanting to die Looking for a way to kill oneself Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain Talking about being a burden to others Increasing use of alcohol or drugs Acting anxious, agitated or reckless Sleeping too little or too much Withdrawing or feeling isolated Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge Displaying extreme mood swings *The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what cause it.

WHAT TO DO

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

Do not leave the person alone Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

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