Robin Williams, Suicide, and "Choice"

I've had a variety of thoughts since hearing about the death of Robin Williams. I haven't, and will not be, voicing most of them. There is so much involved in our cultural response to death, suicide, and mental illness, that I think it's nearly impossible to speak about such things without having a long, long conversation. All the more so if we take our words seriously, and that is what Stoicism asks of us.

I do, however, have one thing to say. I have read many statements in sympathy and in anger that talk about how suicide was Mr. Williams' "choice." As Stoics, the concept of choice is pretty damned important, and I want to suggest that we think deeply before using it.

Suicide is often the outcome of mental illness, which it definitely seems to be in this case. Suicidal ideation is a symptom of depression, with which we know Mr. Williams struggled. Such thoughts are not the product of a rational mind sizing up life and finding it wanting. They are the outcome of a chemical imbalance that strips the world of meaning. Those dismal thoughts are also then evaluated by a "rational faculty" that itself is barely worth the term since it too is hobbled by the physical imbalances in the brain. Actions during a depression are chosen, yes, but in a manner that makes the word "choice" a caricature of what we should commonly mean. I would suggest we reserve "choice" for clearer instances and leave it be when it comes to situations where we can never know, like this one.

Well, as I said, there is too much to say on these topics. Concerning Robin Williams, I would like to see the man's life celebrated by those who felt a connection to him. I also hope that his death sparks a conversation, but one that doesn't drag him into it. Death, suicide, and mental illness are worthy topics for Stoics to discuss. Speculation on the final moments of a man's life? Not so much.

If you or a friend need someone to talk to follow this link: National Lifeline



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