Analyzing Robin's Suicide

Robin Williams USS Enterprise. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons                                                                                                    Robin Williams USS Enterprise. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons Actor/comedian Robin Williams signs an autograph aboard USS Enterprise, December 19, 2003


Everyone is asking me about it. One person offered to pay me for it.

I’ve never seen this much interest in any one topic. Not 9-11. Not even the election of the first African American president of the U.S.

So, here it is: My analysis of Robin Williams’s suicide.

Suicide is a tangle of many strands.

But let’s start with sad. It’s the first and most obvious strand. Ironically, suicide involves the inability to express sad.

It’s not a stretch to say Mr. Williams was manic. One part of mania is relentless humor. Funny is a defense against sad. Truism: you can’t be happy and sad at the same time.

Busy-ness is another part of mania. If your brain is crammed with facts (scripts?), there is no room for feeling. Another truism: your brain can’t process facts and feeling at the same time. (This is why successful meditation depends on chanting words devoid of feeling such as om).

Williams numbed his mind with drugs and alcohol. And yet another truism: you can’t be numb and feel at the same time.

Robin Williams had all these defenses in spades. You could say Mr. Williams was sprinting from sadness.

And not just sadness. The second strand, less obviously, is anger. But like sadness, the suicidal person has difficulty expressing anger.

So what’s so bad about expressing anger and sadness? The reasons usually involve a sense that sadness is weak. Maybe babyish or childish. And excessive guilt causes people to stuff anger. Some people fear that if they let the sadness and anger out, ­­­they will be seen as a negative (or bad) person and drive loved ones away.

Suicide involves a lack of control which is the third strand. Many more people think of suicide than do it. The difference: impaired impulse control. In Mr. William’s case this is evident in his overuse of alcohol and drugs, relentless chatter and prolificacy.

The fourth strand is self-punishment. The suicidal person sees sadness, anger, and poor impulse control = negative, mean, and dangerous and concludes they deserve to be punished.

Four strands make the rope.

Why didn’t he get help? Getting help means facing and expressing the “forbidden” emotions.

Why did he wait until he was in his 60’s? Suicide is most common in the elderly. In Mr. William’s case, he had been sober, had an impending infirmity (Parkinson’s), and work was harder to come by. Life may have been intolerable without his primary defenses: alcohol, busy-ness, and scripts to memorize.

Why didn’t any of his friends or family help? The suicidal person’s defenses disguise their distress from themselves and, typically, everyone.

Of course, this is all conjecture; I have never met Robin Williams. I wish I had. I have simply applied the common suicide dynamics to the public facts. A sad exercise. But one that might help generate awareness. And perhaps save a life. I fantasize about approval from John Keating, my favorite William’s character. 

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Laura F. Dabney , M.D.

Laura F. Dabney, M.D., trained at Eastern Virginia Medical School and practiced emergency, in-patient and consult-liaison psychiatry at all the area hospitals including Sentara Norfolk General and the Veteran’s Hospital in Hampton. As a doctor of psychiatry, she treats patients with medication as well as all of today’s popular therapy techniques. As a physician, she can figure out if your symptoms are due to a medical or an emotional problem. Many medical problems, such as hypothyroidism, can cause emotional symptoms and thus be mistaken for a psychiatric problem. A medical background provides Dr. Dabney with the ability to give you an accurate, safe diagnosis. Dr. Dabney keeps up to date with her medical training as a member of various professional organizations. For more information, visit, call 757-340-0800, or email

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