Aug 13 2014

After Robin Williams: Understanding The Links Between Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide

On Monday Academy Award winning actor and comedian Robin Williams was found asphyxiated with a belt around his neck in his home in Tiburon, California. Police confirmed that his death was a suicide. Despite an illustrious career in Hollywood which started with the TV show Mork and Mindy and included movies like The Birdcage, Mrs. Doubtfire and Dead Poet’s Society, Williams suffered throughout his life from drug addiction, depression and possibly a bipolar disorder. He had checked into a rehab center just a month before his death. Williams was only 63 years old.

It may be hard to fathom why someone who had achieved such stardom would decide to end his own life, but suicide has actually become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States surpassing even the numbers of people who are killed every year in car accidents. Between 1999 and 2010 suicide rates have risen by close to 30 percent for Americans between the ages of 35 to 64 and have been the highest among middle aged men. While suicide rates usually rise during economic downturns, over 90 percent of people who do die by suicide have a known mental illness.

Recently researchers from Johns Hopkins University found a genetic mutation called SKA2 which may provide a marker for whether someone may turn to suicide. Scientists were able to use the marker to predict whether someone had contemplated suicide with an 80 percent rate of accuracy.

GUEST: Gabor Mate, a Canadian physician and best selling author, whose books include In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, and When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. Dr. Maté ran a popular family practice in East Vancouver for two decades. For seven years he also served as Medical Coordinator of the Palliative Care Unit at Vancouver Hospital, caring for the terminally ill. More recently he worked for twelve years in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside neighborhood with patients suffering from drug addiction, mental illness and HIV

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “After Robin Williams: Understanding The Links Between Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide”

  1. Mona Dyckon 13 Aug 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Thank You for a thoughtful and respectful commentary re: addiction and suicide as related to the tragic end of Robin Williams. Kudos to Gabor Mate.

  2. Louise Godboldon 14 Aug 2014 at 8:26 am

    In a nutshell, Dr. Mate. Thank you for this wise and insightful break down on the effect of early childhood trauma and the pain and destruction it causes in later life. Without this fundamental understanding our response will continue to be prescribing meds or locking up, stigmatizing and condemning those whose only crime is that they were not kept physically and emotionally safe as a child.

  3. Shannon Johnsonon 14 Aug 2014 at 9:19 am

    I highly commend your program for offering Gabor’ insight into Robin’s death. Furthermore for offering Gabor’s much needed perspective that can help all people with the roots of their suffering. We’re all in the same boat. Gabor, I love your boldness in expressing the truth of the human condition. And Robin, Gob bless your soul and thank you for your contribution.

  4. Elizabethon 15 Aug 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I’m using a public computer with no earphones. I wish I was able to read a transcript of the interview. I suffer from lifelong depression and other mental illnesses plus I’m in recovery.
    Any help at all is appreciated. Thank you

  5. Angelica Boberon 22 Nov 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Dear Dr. Mate,
    Thank you for all of the comments made to me during times of darkness. I think the death of Robin Williams, has reinforced the fact that we are living in denial of mental illness because that has been our choice as a society as well as within the medical community. Thank you for being a beacon of light and encouraging forgiveness. With great respect and admiration.