I have really hesitated to weigh in on the sad passing of actor Robin Williams, because I do not want to appear insensitive. But I am concerned that the national media and the Hollywood machine is contributing to a pervasive societal problem that goes largely unreported: suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention nearly 40,000 people commit suicide in the US each year making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Roughly speaking, someone commits suicide in the US every 14 minutes.
So here’s my concern; the media seems to be carefully glossing over the tragedy of the suicide. For the most part I understand why, suicide is depressing and difficult to talk about. No one wants to appear disrespectful or insensitive (I include myself in this number), but by rushing past the sadness in order to celebrate the past we might be unintentionally promoting suicide.
Consider the fact that Robin Williams has been largely out of the limelight for many years now, however, after this tragedy we are seeing 24-hour coverage, celebrations, and honorariums of his career. On the surface this seems like a nice thing to do, but are we inadvertently sending a signal to the overlooked teen that suicide will be a sweet release and 15 minutes of much-desired fame? Could we be accidentally signaling to the overworked, depressed, businessman who is struggling with a waning career and a broken family life that self-harm just might be a valid solution?
Before you call me crazy, remember that studies have already shown that copy-cat suicides are a genuine phenomenon. Suicide contagion is real and it is dangerous. There is a thriving subculture that promotes suicide as an honorable and worthy way to gently leave this harsh world. Therefore, we must be extremely careful how we discuss the suicide of Robin Williams or anyone else for that matter.
And what about the thousands of individuals who take their own lives in utter obscurity? Isn’t it time for our culture to wake up and realize that we desperately need the peace that only God can give? What about the false images of happiness that Hollywood promotes every single day? What about the endless quest for fame and fortune that proves to be unfulfilling time and time again? How many have been led to believe that godlessness, promiscuity, and substance abuse are valid pathways to happiness only to find themselves standing on the edge of a deadly precipice? What happens when the beautiful who worship beauty lose their beauty? What happens when the rich man who worships riches loses his wealth? What happens when the superstar loses his stardom? There has to be more to life for lasting happiness to be achieved.
There are thousands contemplating suicide right at this very moment. They desperately need someone to tell them that suicide is not the answer. They are hungry for someone to convince them that life is worth living. They need something that transcends the darkness pressing in on them. They need you to show them the light of Jesus. They need you to demonstrate the joy of abundant life. They need hope!