It's been 20 years since I first lost a good friend to suicide. It was incredibly difficult, at that young age, to understand why what happened happened. This was compounded by the fact that we had all just seen our friend the previous week, and he seemed to be doing so well (this was during the college years, when people branch out into their new lives, and it isn't uncommon to lose touch for extended periods). What we didn't know was that our friend had been privately battling depression for quite some time.
At his funeral, a different friend's mother came up to a group of us, and had a very candid conversation. We all knew that she had her own struggles with mental wellness, but it just wasn't the sort of thing that was discussed in open company. She was also a very reserved woman, which made this doubly out of character for her.
What she told us was basically this: Our friend was battling with something huge. Something that wore him down, a little more each day. He eventually reached a point where it just hurt too much to stay alive. He wasn't being selfish, and he wasn't trying to punish anyone else. He just didn't see any other options for himself. It was an incredibly generous gesture that she made to us, and I still appreciate her effort. It has meant a lot to me over the years.
It's heartbreaking to think about the loneliness, isolation, and desperation my friend experienced in his last days. I feel a lot of sadness, and a lot of regret, but I hold no anger towards my friend.
Robin Williams death will be in the news a lot in the near future. It is my hope that this will help people talk more openly about mental illness. It is a topic that naturally makes us uncomfortable, so it is easy to try to ignore or trivialize it.
For the sake of our brothers and sisters that are in pain, we need to get over these stigmas. We need to signal that our arms are open, and that we are here for those in need. We need to be able to talk about this, openly and honestly.
And lastly, if you find yourself struggling, please seek help. There is no shame in it, and you are not alone.