Williams’ death pushes suicide prevention to forefront

Norma Rutledge, executive director, Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center
Norma Rutledge, executive director, Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center

Monday’s news of Oscar-winning actor and comedic genius Robin Williams’ suicide shook the entire nation. How could someone so successful, who made millions laugh and who worked tirelessly for the homeless, reach such depths of despair?

“Anyone who thinks of suicide is in a very deep emotional place,” says Norma Rutledge, executive director of the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center. “They feel hopeless and don’t know where to turn.”

According to Williams’ publicist, Mara Buxbaum, Williams was battling clinical depression and had been in rehab over the summer. His battle with both depression and substance abuse were topics he discussed openly, often with his inimitable humor.

“They are interrelated,” Rutledge said of depression, substance abuse and suicide. “A person turns to self-medication because they are depressed, but alcohol is a depressant, so it only makes the situation worse.”

And while self-medication may bring some relief in the beginning, it soon spirals out of control and can lead to a more serious depression and thoughts of suicide.

“When a person’s in pain, they want to stop that pain and will turn anywhere to get relief, but it’s a very temporary fix,” Rutledge said.

Williams wasn’t the only person to take his life yesterday. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone dies from suicide every 13 minutes.

The Crisis Intervention Center and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are using the notoriety of Williams’ death to bring discussions about suicide to the forefront.

“We’re using this as an opportunity to reach out to those who suffer in silence,” Rutledge said. “We’ll be here 24/7 so they know they are not alone in their pain … until they can make the decision to live. Incidents like this bring this issue home to a larger population.”

It’s also a chance to help erase the stigma associated with suicide, depression and other mental health issues.

“(Suicide) is the end of a long struggle for that person who has been suffering in silence,” Rutledge said. “When your car is broken, you take it to a mechanic. When your washing machine breaks, you call a repairman. When our emotions are broken, we clam up and suffer in silence.”

Through The Phone, (225) 924-3900, and online, crisischat.org, the Crisis Intervention Center offers a safe place for someone in crisis to break his silence.

“We’re here for them and anyone who can help them interrupt that feeling that all is lost. That may be all that’s needed,” Rutledge said. “Most people don’t really want to die; they just want to stop the hurting.”

Rutledge especially encourages family, friends, even strangers who notice someone in pain to speak up.

“Trust your gut,” she said. “Ask them in an open-minded, nonjudgmental way if they are thinking of suicide, and don’t panic if they say yes. It’s very important to ask; you’re not giving them ideas. Tell them you care enough about them to talk about this issue.”

CDC stats show that 50 percent to 75 percent of all people who attempt suicide tell someone about their intention. So, if someone confides in you that they are contemplating suicide, know this is one secret you should not keep. This is especially true of teens and young adults.

“They may get mad at you and you may lose a friend, but if you say nothing and they commit suicide, you’ve lost a friend anyway,” Rutledge said.