LEXINGTON — Family members and friends of Robin Williams, who died by suicide Monday, acknowledge he was suffering from a long battle with depression. Many Kentucky families suffer the same anguish.
Betsey Westuba lost a brother to suicide in 2007, and says she hopes Williams’ death serves as a reminder to help people who may be suffering from depression.
“It’s a biological disease,” says Westuba. “Just as we have bodily diseases, we have brain diseases, and so often people don’t want to acknowledge that.”
According to the American Association of Suicidology, there are more than 42 suicide attempts every day in Kentucky, and two Kentuckians die each day.
Kelly Gunning, director of advocacy and public policy with the Lexington chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), says Williams died of a medical condition. She adds when a person has depression, it doesn’t matter if they’re a celebrity or someone on the street.
“Depression doesn’t discriminate,” says Gunning. “It doesn’t care how brilliant you are, how amazing you are, or how many people love you and support you. It just doesn’t care.”
Gunning lost her mother and a sister to suicide, and has similarly suffered from lifelong, chronic depression. She says the behavioral system in America is “in shambles,” especially in its inability to care for people with serious mental illness.
“We tend to build our system around what’s billable instead of what’s effective,” notes Gunning. “That’s the crack in the system.”
According to Gunning, “we pulled the rug out from under” a system of community-based care without having another system in place to care for people.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has help available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.