Yesterday we learned of the loss of Robin Williams, who apparently took his own life after battling severe depression. It's somewhat of a cliche, but also one that is often true, that those who laugh the most on the outside, or cause others to laugh, are hiding and covering for deeper pains, and that appears to be true for Williams as well. For me his most memorable performances are not the ones he is perhaps best known for, but instead those like The World According to Garp or One Hour Photo, which showed that deeper, darker, vulnerable side. As comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted yesterday, "We lose at least one great comic to suicide or ODs every year. Our jobs are to communicate, but we seem to not know how to ask for help."
There is enormous stigma that comes with suicide. Stigma laid on the victim and on the families who are left behind. There are also enormous questions that follow in the wake, and many things with which to deal. I can still remember my pastoral care professor in seminary talking about having to deal with the giant "FU" that suicide victims often send out to the world.
And yet we must also recognize that most, if not all, victims of suicide are also dealing with and struggling with mental illness in many different forms. And so while as we would not castigate someone who died from cancer, we should also not castigate someone who dies from suicide. It is a tremendous loss and so we should take the time to talk about mental illness, to pull it from behind the curtain of shame and put it into the light so that we can actually deal with and work to get people the help they need.
Here is the official statement from the United Methodist Church on suicide:
We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should
end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and
suffering. The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to
needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead
to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/or the desire to seek
physician-assisted suicide. We encourage the church to provide education to
address the biblical, theological, social, and ethical issues related to death
and dying, including suicide. United Methodist theological seminary courses
should also focus on issues of death and dying, including suicide.
A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an
affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the
love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people
who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on
surviving family and friends.
We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this
issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to
provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to
those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove
the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and