Comedian’s Suicide Underscores Importance Of Treating Depression

Major television network newscasts, newspapers, and Internet media sources continue coverage of the suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams, nearly all mentioning the fact that Williams suffered from severe depression. All three television networks led their nightly newscasts with the story. Some sources point out that older white men who are depressed are in a group at a higher risk for suicide, while others note that despite heightened awareness, stigma remains surrounding depression and its treatment, which may make some people reluctant to reach out for help.

In its lead story, ABC World News (8/12, lead story, 3:55, Muir) reported that Williams appeared to have committed suicide by hanging. Marin County, California Assistant Deputy Chief Coroner Keith Boyd Keith Boyd was shown saying that Williams “had been seeking treatment for depression,” while in its lead story, NBC Nightly News (8/12, lead story, 2:55, Williams) pointed out that toxicology testing is now underway to determine what, if any, “chemical substances were in Mr. Williams’ system at the time of his death.” The CBS Evening News (8/12, lead story, 2:35, Pelley) led its newscast with similar coverage.

In a different segment, NBC Nightly News (8/12, story 6, 2:45, Williams) quoted American Psychiatric Association president Paul Summergrad, MD, who addressed the stigma of mental illnesses, including depression, saying, “It’s very important that we stop seeing these illnesses as faults and blames, and see them as what they are, medical conditions, genetic conditions, brain disorders which require appropriate diagnosis, treatment, care and support.” Medical editor Nancy Snyderman, MD, reached out to people who need help, saying, “If you have concerns about suicide, call this national number, 1-800-273-TALK.”

In another segment, the CBS Evening News (8/12, story 2, 2:40, Pelley) reported that according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are “more than 39,000 suicides each year. That’s an average of 108 each day.” Correspondent Jim Axelrod mentioned that US suicide prevention hotlines experienced a big increase in the number of calls following the announcement of Williams’ suicide.

Posted in In The News.