Losing a Healing Voice

The world has lost a beacon of laughter and creativity. Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide yesterday. His tragic death leaves us to struggle with two perplexing caveats: we need better treatments for the underlying causes of most suicides–depressions, bipolar illnesses, substance abuse, and associated medical illnesses to prevent comparable losses in the future. And if we are to obtain better treatments, we need new models, a new roadmap. Robin would love us to develop them.

Robin Williams’ publicist confirmed the late actor has long battled depressions. Robin himself acknowledged his need for rehabilitation for substance misuse on several occasions. It was also known that Williams’ had recently undergone heart surgery. This combination was tragically toxic, as it is for many of the 35,000 who die every year of suicide.

“This tragedy underscores the need to develop personalized treatments for depressions and bipolar illnesses” said John F. Greden, MD, executive director at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center. “Having multiple causes means we cannot treat them as if they were all the same, yet we still do so. The time has come for us to revamp our approaches so that each person can receive the treatments they need for their underlying brain problems. Only then will suicides be prevented and not just mourned.”

Greden also explains that “large samples, truly large samples in the tens of thousands must be coupled with lifetime monitoring since underlying causes are not only common, they are chronic. The National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC) was formed to develop and help lead these new models.”

“There are options for treatment right now that can help tremendously,” said Melvin McInnis, MD, principal investigator of the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund in the Depression Center. “If you are having thoughts of suicide – talk to someone, tell them, tell your doctor, go the emergency room, get help.  If someone tells you that they have suicidal thoughts – listen – believe them and get them the help they need.”

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of depressions and bipolar illnesses is crucial. If you or any of your loved ones experience feeling of helplessness, emptiness or unhappiness, irritability, have a loss in activities that were once enjoyable, or have trouble sleeping, it may be time to seek help. Improving nutrition, sleep, and physical exercise and not misusing alcohol or other drugs can also help reduce the underlying symptoms and lower suicide risk. The support of family and friends can also be very important. Finding the right treatment for the right person at the right time requires a new approach.  That time has come.

To learn about treatment options visit the University of Michigan Depression Center’s website at www.DepressionCenter.org or the National Network of Depression Centers website at www.NNDC.org.

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