Many people in the US were shocked and saddened by the death by suicide of Robin Williams. Many of us had also known that he had been given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder – but more frequently in the press we had heard about his trips to ‘rehab’ to address his struggles with addiction. What we have learned from large scale epidemiological studies over the past twenty years is that experience of symptoms of serious mental illness often predates the person’s development of an addiction. No matter the onset, both disorders must be the focus of a person’s ongoing care. And treatment works – studies sponsored by the NIH focused on the treatment of bipolar disorder have found that the combination of medication and psychotherapy, in various forms, can substantially reduce an individual’s experience of symptom relapse and hospitalization. Though Mr. Williams was able to talk about his struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction, many in the community are not and are reluctant to seek care due to the stigma attached to acknowledging having a mental health disorder. While the issue of suicide is in your thoughts, please take a moment to reach out to those you know who may be struggling with mental illness and to educate yourself about resources that are available in your local community. Your local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a good place to start (www.namiflorida.org). And if you find yourself needing to talk to someone about thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available (1-800-273-TALK (8255)).
Holly Hills, Ph.D.
Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute
College of Behavioral and Community Sciences
University of South Florida