Since Robin Williams’ death on Monday, August 11, 2014, calls into crisis hotlines around the country have surged. Physicians, public health officials and mental health advocates hope the death of Robin Williams will bring new attention to suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported that they saw the greatest number of calls in its history on Monday, the day that Williams’ death was announced. Lifeline calls increased even more Tuesday, to double the usual daily volume, or about 7,500 calls, says John Draper, project director at the lifeline.
Draper says the increase in crisis calls is likely due to publicity about the national hotline — 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — which has been promoted by the news media since covering Williams’ death.
“Depression is a growing problem,” says Carla Sofka, professor of social work at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. “This discussion around Robin gives people permission to talk about something that they otherwise might be too afraid to discuss.”
“People have to realize it could happen to anybody,” said Dr. Steven Sharfstein, CEO of the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Towson. “Depression is a very common human experience.”
Every forty seconds, someone commits suicide. In the United States, it is the tenth most common cause of death in people over ten years of age, far more common than death by homicide or aneurysm or AIDS.
Nearly half a million Americans are taken to the hospital every year because of suicide attempts. One in five people with major depression will make such an attempt; there are approximately sixteen non-lethal attempts for every lethal one. The rate of suicide is going up, especially among middle-aged men.
Robin Williams was found dead Monday in his Marin County home. A county coroner said Tuesday that he appeared to have hanged himself. Friends and associates said he had struggled for decades with depression, and the coroner said he had been seeking treatment.