Stevens: Lessons learned from the death of Robin Williams - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

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Stevens: Lessons learned from the death of Robin Williams

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Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2014 11:23 am

The shocking death of actor and comedian Robin Williams is bringing needed attention to the subject of depression, suicide and other mental health issues.

During his career, Williams entertained generations with his comedic genius. He never hid the fact he battled many problems in life and frequently talked about his struggles. In his death, he has started an important national conversation about mental health. That may turn out to be his most important role.

Just last week I heard someone talking about his death say, “But he was so successful.” The comment underscores an important myth about mental health. The reality, as Williams’ death again shows, is that anyone can struggle with depression, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide regardless of their situation in life.

National Institute of Mental Health statistics show that about 38,000 people die from suicide each year.

In fact, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide among men is four times higher than among women.

It’s important to know that suicide is preventable. One of the keys is to recognize risk factors such as depression or other mental health issues, alcohol or drug dependence, family history or previous suicide attempts. The risk of suicide increases when a person has more than one of these contributing factors.

If you think someone you know might be considering suicide, ask them. It’s one of the most important things you can do. Some people fear that simply asking about suicidal thoughts could cause the person to commit suicide, but it doesn’t. That’s one of the first questions a professional therapist will ask a patient. If you are not sure how to ask, consider taking a Mental Health First Aid training. Cenpatico offers them at no cost by calling (866) 495-6738 for more information.

If you know of someone who may be considering suicide, seek professional help. Cenpatico of Arizona provides a toll-free helpline at 1-866-495-6735. Other resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

By watching for warning signs, being pro-active and learning more about mental health, you might be able to help someone before it is too late.

• Terry Stevens is CEO of Cenpatico of Arizona, the Regional Behavioral Health Authority for Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties. Cenpatico services are funded through a contract with the Arizona Department of Health Services/Division of Behavioral Health Services (ADHS/DBHS) and AHCCCS. For more information, visit

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