Was Robin Williams a Coward?

Robin Williams Like everyone else, I was stunned to hear the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. Although I had known of his struggle with depression for many years, I was deeply saddened to learn that his suffering was so intense, that he actually took his own life.

As I read the reactions to the news of Williams’ death, I was dismayed by some of the harsh comments along the lines of: “How could he do something so selfish and leave his family to suffer? What a coward!” Although I became very angry reading these responses, I thought about it for a while and realized that the average person has no idea what severe depression is like, and certainly has even less understanding of suicide.

So, here’s my attempt to educate those of you who think Robin Williams “took the easy way out” and should be loathed for doing so. Yes, suicide ends suffering for the person who is depressed and leaves others with emotional pain. Sure, we wish he had not done this. Yes, we are all experiencing a loss. But please understand this: the decision to end your life does not come from a place of rational decision-making. A person who decides to end their life is not making a list of their options and then casually choosing “suicide” like some selection off a menu. The choice to end your life comes from a place of extremely deep pain, the kind that is so dark that you literally can’t see any other way out in that moment.

We can all judge Robin Williams and say that he was a “coward” or “should have gotten more help” or “should have thought about his wife and kids,” but that isn’t what this story is about. It’s not about courage or treatment options or how much you love your kids. It’s about vulnerability, suffering, deep despair, hopelessness, and being truly convinced that you will never find your way out of the pain.

No matter how well we think we know someone, none of us can ever fully understand another person’s experience. Everybody keeps parts of themselves hidden, sometimes out of fear of how others will react, and sometimes to protect loved ones. As we walk around our lives, there are always people in our midst that carry invisible emotional pain. In fact, you might be one of them. So, I urge you to be more compassionate and do as the quote says: “Be kind,” understanding fully that, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

RIP Robin Williams. Wishing peace to your loved ones.

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Licensed psychologist in San Antonio, Texas.
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