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Support in Dealing With Suicide, Depression

Clarence, NY (WBEN) - Lisa Boehringer knows first hand how difficult it is to deal with losing a loved one to suicide.


 - Image 21(AP) Although police have now revealed how Robin Williams committed suicide, the Oscar-winning actor's fans, friends and even family continue to struggle to understand why someone who spread so much joy throughout the world could find so little in his own life that he decided to stop living.

Williams, who made no secret of his decades-long struggles with depression and substance abuse, killed himself by fashioning a noose out of a belt and hanging himself, authorities said Tuesday.

The circumstances of the death do not help explain what motivated Williams, suicide experts said. Understanding that would require a detailed "psychological autopsy" that includes the review of medical and other records, and interviews with family and friends.

These experts stressed that suicide rarely is triggered by a single factor, such as depression or substance abuse. Typically there are at least two such influences, often compounded by acute stress, such as from financial hardship or troubled personal relationships.

"We know from decades of research that there are numerous factors that contribute to suicide risk," said Michelle Cornette, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology.

Word that the actor had killed himself also left neighbors stunned and grief-stricken in the quiet, waterfront neighborhood of Tiburon, where Williams was a popular figure.

"I'm shocked. I loved him. I loved his sense of humor. I loved the spontaneity of his life," neighbor Johanna Dunning said of Williams, who was often seen riding his bicycle through the neighborhood or stopping to joke with kids.

"My sister died by suicide about 20 years ago," Boehringer said. "She was my younger sister Beverly, and it was a shock to my family. I thought I would never have a normal life again after that, I thought I would never feel better.It took years, I was 20 years old at the time, it took me years and years to feel better. To make something positive out of it, helping others I think a lot of times helps people heal too."

Now, Boehringer works with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), helping not only those thinking about suicide but also the families who are left to grieve.

"When someone experiences a suicide, a lot of times you feel like you're the only one, and this couldn't possibly happen to anybody else that you know or that you'll ever meet."

That's why the AFSP provides outreach to survivors of suicide loss. "This is a nice group where people can talk about their experience and what helped them, what didn't help them. They really build a support network through that."

Boehringer says there's still a stigma attached to suicide, and that it's a different type of loss. That's why all the members of the AFSP's outreach program are people who have lost someone close to suicide.

Have you or someone close to you ever dealt -or is dealing with- depression?
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The AFSP works to raise awareness, something that doesn't always come easy. "A lot of people think if you talk about (suicide) it's going to make people do it, but I think that's not true. We need to talk about it because people need to know that there's help."

"People are scared to even say the word suicide, and if you know someone and you're worried that they might be thinking about it or they're that depressed that you think they're going that way, it's ok to say to someone 'are you thinking about suicide?' That opens up the conversation, they know that you care about them, they know that you're concerned. Sometimes all it takes is one person asking the question to get the person help."

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends that anyone in crisis call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Crisis Services offers 24 hour help at 834 3131.

The Western New York Chapter of the AFSP can be reached at (585) 202-2783. They will be holding an "Out of the Darkness" walk in Delaware Park on September 13th. More information can be found HERE


Medical expert weighs in on Robin Williams' struggle with depression, substance abuse


How Robin Williams' humor masked pain and addiction

from the US CDC:

What Is Depression?

Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness.

Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.

There are several forms of depressive disorders.

Major depression,—severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.

Persistent depressive disorder—depressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for 2 years.

Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances. They include:

  • Psychotic depression, which occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false beliefs or a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).
  • Postpartum depression, which is much more serious than the "baby blues" that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or persistent depressive disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes—from extreme highs (e.g., mania) to extreme lows (e.g., depression).


Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear different. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred. They also cannot be used to diagnose depression.

Some types of depression tend to run in families. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression too. Scientists are studying certain genes that may make some people more prone to depression. Some genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of several genes acting together with environmental or other factors. In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Other depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.

Signs & Symptoms

"It was really hard to get out of bed in the morning. I just wanted to hide under the covers and not talk to anyone. I didn't feel much like eating and I lost a lot of weight. Nothing seemed fun anymore. I was tired all the time, and I wasn't sleeping well at night. But I knew I had to keep going because I've got kids and a job. It just felt so impossible, like nothing was going to change or get better."


Robin Williams' death on Monday draws new attention to the struggle with depression that can plague a person throughout their life.

Williams' press representative, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement that "he has been battling severe depression of late."

Williams spoke publicly about his troubles and his repeated bouts of drug and alcohol abuse over the years. And yet his awareness of the problem, and his efforts to get treatment, were not enough to save him.

In television interviews and even on the stand-up comedy stage, the 63-year old comedian and actor frequently acknowledged that he turned to drugs and alcohol for escape. He sought out professional help and support and was admitted to rehabilitation centers several times to get clean. He maintained sobriety for two decades before relapsing in 2006.

"It might have been helpful to learn how to deal with things such as stress," he said during an interview with "Entertainment Tonight" several years ago. "I dealt with it with alcohol. And then you realize that doesn't help you much. That doesn't help you deal with the situation."

But as with many people suffering from such challenges, the cycle frequently repeated itself. Just last month, Williams said he was returning to rehab to "fine tune" his sobriety.

Dr. Harry Croft, a psychiatrist and addiction expert and chief of CNS Trials at the Clinical Trials of Texas, says the phrase suggests to him that Williams wasn't actually planning to visit a rehab center for addiction but was instead seeking help at a psychiatric hospital.

"I would surmise that he was in treatment for depression, not substance abuse," Croft told CBS News. "One doesn't really enter a facility for maintenance of sobriety unless there's something else that's going on that threatens that sobriety."

Croft pointed out that checking into rehab has become an intrinsic part of celebrity culture, but getting help for mental illness still carries plenty of stigma in society.

Depression is often difficult to treat and can also be resistant to drug therapies. It's estimated that only about a third of people with major depression will achieve remission after starting antidepressants.

Treating severe depression typically requires some type of drug therapy, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other psychotropic medications. Unfortunately, many of these drugs can sometimes worsen a person's depressive symptoms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns consumers that people who take SSRIs may have an increased risk for attempting suicide.

Patients with clinical depression also often seek out talk therapy and counseling. But nearly every expert will say that patients must do some heavy lifting. That is, make lifestyle changes and find better ways to cope with anxiety and stress.

Some research has found that mutations to a number of genes can make certain people unresponsive to drug treatment. Brain scans of people with depression and addiction look different than those of people who do not suffer from these conditions, another sign that the conditions indeed have a physical basis.

Research has found changes in regions of the brain that are linked to a human's ability to regulate emotion, such as the hippocampus, amygdala and limbic system, all of which are areas connected to the reward center of the brain and therefore addiction. For many people the way to feel happy -- even for a brief moment -- is to reward the pleasure center of the brain.

"This tragedy gives us a chance to understand that depression is not due a weakness of will or character flaw. It is a brain disorder," said Croft. "We see changes in function, the way the brain processes various neurochemicals and neurotransmitters."

Williams' decision to take his own life -- apparently by hanging, officials say -- was especially shocking to many due to the fact that the man seemed to have everything: fame, fortune, a loving family and endless talent. But Croft says no blessing or success can cure a disease of the brain.

While the public may never know for sure, it is possible that even with all the resources available to Williams, he simply wasn't able to get the help he needed.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression
according to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.

Signs and symptoms include:

Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Irritability, restlessness
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
Fatigue and decreased energy
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Overeating, or appetite loss
Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

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