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Robin Williams - Can we Stay Focused on Mental Health?

  • August 15, 2014

Robin Williams - can we stay focused?

Whenever a major celebity or notable figure dies by suicide, heck whenever friends I know hear about a suicide, I can always expect a phone call or two from people encouraging me to keep up with my work. This week, there were tons of phone calls. Robin Williams touched the lives of so many - touched my life as well. I'm old enough to remember "Mork and Mindy," so my joy from Robin Williams goes way back. What a talent. What an incredible man. I'm so sad that he's gone for our sakes, and also for the sake of his family. Knowing what he battled, I am glad that he brilliantly battled for so long.

In one of the interviews I did this week, a person asked if I thought stories like Robin Williams will make a difference. They do, but my concern is the focus is in the wrong place if we ever want to get ahead of the disease. I've seen this happen too many times. Someone who supposedly "has it all" dies by suicide and everyone is upset for 24 hours, 48 hours or maybe a week. We wring our hands and talk about how complex and unsolvable mental illness is, and then return to our lives. I'd like to suggest a call to action. Instead of talking about how horrible mental illness is, why don't we do something - like talk about things we know today deter depression: sleep, medication, exercise, stress management. Why do we let the brain remain a bigger enigma than it is?

Yes Robin Williams had every resource in the world and died by suicide. We are so shocked at that, but not surprised when Steve Jobs dies of cancer. Sometimes the disease wins. Sometimes if we ignore the early warning signs, we get too deep to turn back. Robin Williams did check himself into rehab and attempted to get help. I don't think that is an excuse for the rest of us to deem mental illness unsolvable. Most of the time, with the right care, people don't die by suicide. Unfortunately some do.

I did a short interview this week with Glenn Beck, yes Glenn Beck, hopefully not too many people will disown me for going on a show with someone with whom I have so many conflicting views. My attitude is this. Glenn Beck was sincere about the topic of suicide prevention, and I am happy to help anyone in that regard. He's lost two close family members to suicide and had suicidal thoughts himself. He deeply cares about this issue. Unfortunately he charges for his media, so I don't have a free link for you. He did post my Struck by Living Top Ten on his website.

Also I did an interview with my good friends Anna DeHaro and Benaye Rogers this week which will air over the weekend. Here are the show times: Sat, 8/16 at 5pm on 1190am. On Sunday, August 17th at 6am on KDMX 1029 and KDGE 1021, at 6:15am on KHKS 1061, at 7am on KZPS 925 and at 7:30am on KEGL 971. It will air again on KFXR 1190am at 11am on Sunday morning. Both Anna and Benaye have been stalwart allies on this issue.

38,500 annually die from suicide in the US, that's almost as many as die from breast cancer. My hope is that Robin's death will not just open our minds to the topic of suicide prevention, but help us to focus on doing the boring, daily maintenance that allows our brains to thrive. Just like with heart disease or breast cancer, if we maintain good health habits and catch problems early, we have a much better chance for survival. Unfortunately most people have not made the connection between those small brain health habits and something as serious as suicide. As Kenneth Cooper says “It is much easier to maintain good health than regain it once it is lost.” Until we apply that same maxim to mental health, mental illness will always have the upper hand.

Julie K Hersh - Author of Struck by Living, Decidí Vivir, the Spanish translation of Struck by Living is now available on Kindle, Nook and IPAD (Apple is lagging but should be up soon). Paper copies will be available from Amazon and other major bookstores in September of 2014.



"Hersh's page-turner story is very informative about the state of mind of people experiencing very high suicide risk; to take two examples, perceived burdensomeness and social isolation.  I'm relieved for her and for all of us that she survived.  Struck by Living shows a life beyond suicidality, filled with possibility."

Thomas Joiner
Thomas Joiner, The Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Florida State University, Author of Why People Die by Suicide and Myths About Suicide
About Struck By Living

In Struck by Living, Julie Hersh picks apart the irony of her life with humor and brutal honesty. Despite a loving husband, healthy children, financial security, Julie attempted suicide three times. With the help of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), Julie broke the deadly course of her disorder. Now well, Julie promotes the importance of mental health with collaborations with other artists and organizations.

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