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Robin Williams' Death Highlights Depression

Comedian's Suicide Reopens Mental Health Dialogue

Stacy M. Brown | 8/20/2014, 3 p.m.
The suicide of Oscar-winning comedian Robin Williams has many shining a spotlight on depression, a mental illness that officials said had typically been shrouded in secrecy and shame, particularly in the African-American community. (Courtesy of bet.com)

The suicide of Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams has many shining a spotlight on depression, a mental illness that officials said typically had been shrouded in secrecy and shame, particularly in the African-American community.

“A lot of times in the past, African-Americans have viewed severe depression and other mental illnesses as indicating a spiritual weakness,” said Tamara Warren Chinyani, an instructor with the Mental Health First Aid program in Northwest. “We’re changing that paradigm around.”

The Religion News Service in Northwest reported that blacks are now receiving more help with depression and other mental health problems from black churches, who are no longer behind the curve in addressing such illnesses with their flock.

“I think there was movement already and then when Robin Williams committed suicide and the world found out why, that he was suffering from depression, it was one of those things that woke everyone up to the seriousness of depression,” said Ricki Blackwood, a registered nurse who lives in Northeast.

“I think, and unfortunately for Robin Williams’ family, that in his death we found a silver lining which is that it’s brought more attention to depression, something nobody ever really wanted to talk openly about,” Blackwood said. “Now, we can’t let his death be in vain and let this opportunity go by without really shining the spotlight on this horrible illness that has affected so many people including so many of us African-Americans.”

Statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, revealed that suicide rates increased from 10.4 deaths per 100,000 in the year 2000 to 12.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2011.

Further, 78.5 percent of suicides in America have been committed by men while individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 have the highest rate of suicide.

Williams died at 63.

“[Williams’ death] reminds us that many of us are walking a fine line. Smiling on the outside while slowly dying on the inside,” said Terrie M. Williams, a celebrity publicist and mental health advocate who authored the book, “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.”

“I didn’t know Robin personally, so I am unable to speak with any certainty as to why he chose to end his life. But, I have experienced that kind of torment and pain. For years, I, too, struggled with depression,” Williams said. “And many days, I still do.” She said those suffering will do just about anything not to feel the pain anymore. And, in those moments, Williams said their brains become their worst enemies.

“It often takes an outside force to provide light, to make sure those dark thoughts aren’t, as in the case of Robin, our last thoughts,” she said.

In its report released on Thursday, August 14, the Religion News Service noted that African-Americans are 20 percent more likely than whites to admit to instances of serious psychological stress and, while more white teenagers commit suicide than their black counterparts, more African-American teens – 8.3 percent – attempted suicide than their white peers – 6.2 percent.