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Industry leaders react to Robin Williams' death

August 12, 2014

According to, celebrities are leading a renewed effort to raise awareness of mental health issues after the death of actor Robin Williams. He reportedly battled severe depression and had been in rehab over the summer. Reports indicate his death may have been suicide.  

Meanwhile, the behavioral health community is reacting.

Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council, in her blog:

“If there’s any lesson to be learned in this tragic loss, it is that suicide is an equal opportunity killer. Depression, mental illness and addiction can happen to anyone, anywhere.

“Since 1999, suicide among middle aged men has risen dramatically, according to the CDC — 27% to be specific. And, overall, suicide takes twice as many lives as homicide. Yet, it has the potential to be preventable. With better research, better identification, and better access to the right treatments and supports, we can prevent many of these unnatural deaths.”

Lori Ashcraft, PhD, executive director of Recovery Innovations Recovery Opportunity Center commented to Behavioral Healthcare in an email:

“I personally know how terrifying and alienating depression can be and how it can drive one to find relief in additions. Depressions are no respecter of person or position, of fame or wealth. I only wish some of us who know that road could have been there that evening to hold Robin’s hand and be with him as he found a way to stay with us and keep making us laugh.”

Statement of Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America:

“It should inspire us to speak out against the stigma and discrimination so many with serious mental illnesses face, and instead see them for their strengths.  It should inspire us to identify our needs and seek help at the earliest stages of any disease process.  It should inspire us to fight for our overall health and well-being every day of our lives, even in the face of great challenges.  And it should inspire us to believe that no matter how difficult those challenges may be, we can still work toward recovery.”

From Thomas Insel, director of NIMH:

"But our discussions of mental illness rarely focus on this inconvenient truth: these illnesses are currently just as fatal as the “big killers.” We must continue to invest in research to develop new and more effective treatments for people with depression and other mental illnesses. The goal must be a future in which no lives are lost as a result of suicide."

Behavioral Healthcare’s blogger Ron Manderscheid, PhD, also posted on his blog:

“We must insist that every health insurance plan cover screening and treatment for depression and substance abuse.”

Addiction Professional blogger Heidi Voet Smith, LPC, commented on her blog:

What I continue to learn as I work with those afflicted with addiction and mental illness is that sometimes people just don't get better. It is a depressing reality, but one that we must face. These illnesses are as deadly as cancer, diabetes, even the Ebola virus. We can't blame this loss on a failure of the system. All we can blame it on is a deadly disease that is insidious.”

Psychotherapist Fran Sherman in a NewsMaxHealth article:

“I hope that now people will finally realize that the mental illness he had is a brain disease, which should be treated like heart disease, cancer, or any other illness, and should not be stigmatized.”

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