In my role as a social worker at a mental health clinic, I provide individual counseling services, which routinely includes a risk assessment regarding suicidal ideation, self harm, substances, etc. In light of tragedies such as the death of Robin Williams, it often includes discussion about how such an apparent suicide can affect the mental health of an individual patient, given how connected the public often feels to actors. In the last few weeks following his suicide, a number of patients have voiced their overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss regarding his death, especially given what a talented actor he was, as they reflected positively on his iconic roles, to which individuals of all ages are easily able to relate.
Like many, I have often thought fondly of Robin Williams, with my personal favorite of his characters being Mrs. Doubtfire, but in my role as a mental health therapist, these discussions extend to assessing the level of risk that my patients pose at any given time, especially following the suicide of a comedic icon. It is at times like these that postvention becomes prevention as we attempt to assist patients to work through their negative emotions in a healthy manner to avoid a further adverse outcome. While compassion for Robin Williams and his family is necessary, the priority is to guide patients away from suicide towards recovery, as therapeutic work can offer substantial improvements to quality of life and should be encouraged as such especially at times like these.
From my experience, patients are often able to reflect on this loss of life as something tragic that made them reconsider their thoughts on suicide, as it often represents a regrettably permanent outcome to a temporary issue. Unfortunately, when patients are already questioning whether it is worth it to continue fighting against depression, tragedies like this can add to our work as mental health professionals but also offers the potential for positive change.
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