THE BLOG

Robin Williams' Death One Year On: A Reminder That Anyone Can Be Vulnerable

14/08/2015 16:02 BST | Updated 14/08/2016 10:59 BST

This time last year the actor and comedian Robin Williams' suicide shocked the world and received an avalanche of media coverage, and Samaritans, as the UK's leading suicide reduction charity, was at the heart of the debate about what makes someone take their own life.

Back then I didn't know I would become Samaritans' CEO, and I was just another cinema goer who remembered seeing Robin in films like Goodwill Hunting, Mrs Doubtfire and Good Morning Vietnam. Like millions of other fans around the world, I was touched by the loss.

In the midst of the outpourings of grief, Robin Williams' death made people confront the reality of suicide and the after-effects of someone taking their own life. So perhaps this anniversary is a fitting time for Samaritans to talk about this difficult subject.

The talent Robin Williams had might have been unusual, but the pain and distress he must have been in to take his own life unfortunately is not. The question is not only how do we help people in this dark place, but, even more importantly, how do we get them to reach out for help before they reach crisis point?

There are many challenges to mental wellbeing in the UK and research has shown that issues such as poverty, deprivation, loneliness and relationship problems play a major part in suicide. If you lose, or face losing, your job, your home, or your partner and children, it can be much more likely to set you on a downward spiral, however confident you felt you about coping with life before those reverses.

Samaritans is unique because it has a network of more than 21,000 volunteers around the UK and Ireland who are there round the clock, every day of the year. We are here to listen to anyone who is struggling, not just those who are suicidal.

There is a lot of pain and distress out there, last year Samaritans received more than 5 million appeals for help, and we are not expecting 2015 to bring a reduction. A major part of Samaritans work as I see it is to encourage people to reach out for support when they are struggling and in the process, find a way through their problems.

I have spent a lifetime working in health and social care and I know that we need to be much more open about mental health in order to demystify it and reduce the stigma which still exists, in spite of many people's best efforts to eliminate it.

Samaritans Talk to Us campaign which ran this July showed that we are still far from comfortable about talking about our feelings and sharing our problems with others: around a third of us fear this would be a burden, and keep silent.

Robin Williams' death was significant for another reason, he was also part of the highest risk group for suicide, middle-aged men. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves, and Samaritans will continue to campaign for more support for this group.

Creating a climate where no-one feels afraid to share their fears, or worries about being judged if they do, is what we need to aim for. Robin Williams' death showed that anyone can be vulnerable, however they might appear to the outside world.

Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. For more support and advice, visit the website here.