Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

 Robin_WilliamsTogether with millions of others, I am deeply saddened by the death of comedian and actor Robin Williams. To say that I was shocked when I heard about his apparent suicide on Monday would be an understatement; if I hadn’t put my hands on my head, I might have fallen over.

I’ve been a big fan of Williams since I was about eight years old, having been introduced to his work through such family favorites as “Hook,” Aladdin,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Since then, I have come to admire his incredible range as demonstrated in such films as “The World According to Garp,” Dead Poets Society,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Awakenings,” and “Good Will Hunting.” He was an enormously talented man, and surely his complexity as a person was mirrored in the depth and breadth of his work.

And that is what makes this situation especially tragic. Suicide, the ultimate act of despair, is always a tragedy – but its sting is uniquely potent when it occurs in someone who, in life, seemed so positive, so life-affirming, so happy…someone who brought cheer and hope to many through laughter.

Before I start rambling (if I haven’t already), I want to cut right to a question on the minds of many religious people: Is Robin Williams now in hell?

Here is my definitive answer: I don’t know. And if you were to talk to the pope or any conference of bishops, they would have to say the same.

SuicideLet me try to sum up the Catholic position on this issue as best I can. Suicide, objectively speaking, is a mortal sin – that is, a sin of the type that results in the loss of divine grace in the soul (for more on mortal sin as distinct from venial sin, click here). Why is this? In short, it is a selling-out. It is one thing to accept the fact of death, and even to surrender to it when our time comes; but to kill oneself is to choose death over life. And if we believe in existence beyond death, then we must affirm that our choice in favor of life or death carries into eternity.

However – and this is very important to understand – mortal sin requires three things: 1) Serious matter (which suicide is); 2) full knowledge; and 3) full consent of the will. In other words, we have to both know what we are doing and consent to the action with full freedom. So it is not only fully possible, but probably very common for people to commit objectively serious acts, but without culpability in terms of a mortal sin…and, in some cases, perhaps even without any responsibility for their actions.

As experts will affirm, spontaneous suicides are very, very rare. In the vast majority of cases, those who commit suicide suffer from any one of a number of debilitating mental illnesses that not only impact their lives, but also severely inhibit their ability to make the right decisions.

As has been widely publicized, Robin Williams suffered from clinical depression, which is a very serious condition. I think we can pretty safely assume that his freedom in decision-making was compromised.

It may be that there are people reading this who, like Williams, suffer from depression or a related illness. After Williams’ suicide, you may be tempted to lose hope. “Gosh,” you might say, “if a celebrity with billions of dollars couldn’t get sufficient help to battle his depression, what’s in store for me?”

Here’s what you have to understand: Robin Williams’ situation was very unusual. From what I understand, his depression was part of a longer history of bi-polar disorder. And this was in addition to a history of addiction to cocaine, heroine, and alcohol. Pile onto that the immense pressure of stardom, and you have a dangerous situation that, thankfully, most people with a mental illness don’t have to face.

Let us pray for the soul of Robin Williams, and for all of our dearly beloved brothers and sisters who struggle with these very cruel conditions. Remember, all times and places are present to God at once, since He is outside of time and space; therefore, we must never despair of our prayers being able to help even those who have left us.

Images from Wikipedia

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