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Robin Williams Was Typical of So Many Suicides, Yet Atypical, Too

Robin Williams fits the demographic of those who commit suicide in so many ways, yet his death was atypical too. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Robin Williams fits the demographic of those who commit suicide in so many ways, yet his death was atypical too. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Robin Williams exhibited most of the signs of someone who was in danger of committing suicide and fits the demographic of most suicide victims. Yet he was atypical in so many ways. Was there something more behind his desperation?

His widow, Susan Schneider, released a statement to “Extra” today (Aug. 14), revealing Robin was suffering from Parkinson’s disease when he committed suicide.

That may have been enough to push him over the edge. Failing health is often a cause in older adults.

Williams, 63, was found dead in his Marin County home Monday (Aug. 11). He’d hung himself and made a feeble attempt to slash his wrists, according to the local coroner’s office.

The beloved comedian had suffered from severe depression for years and also had abused alcohol and drugs early in his life. He reportedly had been sober for 20 years before his death.

Depression and a history of drug or alcohol use are among the most common factors linking suicide victims, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, citing figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

A separate study found that depression had been diagnosed in 54 percent of suicide victims, followed by alcohol disorders at 42 percent. Just under half of those who killed themselves were involved in some kind of treatment at least three months prior to their deaths.

Suicides By State in the United States
Each year, more than 34,000 people in the United States commit suicide, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control, with the rates varying widely from state to state. Here are the top 20 states with highest rates, based on CDC data for 2007. Rates are per 100,000 population. The national rate is 12.1.
Tennessee: 13.7
Missouri: 13.7
Kansas: 13.8
Florida: 14.2
Arkansas: 14.2
Vermont: 14.3
Utah: 14.3
Maine: 14.5
Oklahoma: 14.7
North Dakota: 14.9
Idaho: 14.9
Kentucky: 15.3
Oregon: 15.9
Arizona: 16
West Virginia: 16.6
Colorado: 16.7
Nevada: 18.4
Wyoming: 19.3
New Mexico: 20.4
Montana: 20.5
Alaska: 21.8

Source: Centers for Disease Control

In 2011, the most recent CDC figures available, the highest suicide rate (18.6 per 100,000 people) was among people 45 to 64 years old. People over 85 years old made up the second highest rate (16.9).

Although suicide is most often associate with youth, adolescents and young adults between the ages 15 and 24 had a suicide rate of 11.0 per 100,000 population, consistently lower than middle-aged and older adults.

Of those who died by suicide, 78.5 percent were male and 21.5 were female, according to the CDC.

While suicide cuts across all levels of society, socioeconomic status, employment, occupation, sexual orientation and gender identity are the factors they most often share in common.

Williams was atypical in that regard because of his socioeconomic status, plus he had close friends, a supportive family and he was seeking treatment.

There are conflicting reports whether he had money problems. He’d been working virtually non-stop and had four films in production.

The actor’s method of death was also atypical; nearly half of all suicides are by gunshots and only 25 percent are by asphyxiation, usually hanging. The next highest category is poison (17.3 percent), according to government statistics.

Williams also lived in a state the scores low in terms of suicide rates. The worst state for suicides is Alaska, followed by mostly rural states like Wyoming, Arkansas, Kansas, Nevada, Utah and Oklahoma.

Surprisingly, heavily urbanized states like New York, New Jersey, Maryland and California have the lowest suicide rates.

Because Williams’ death was so high profile, it has triggered fears that it will spark others to do the same. But that’s not necessarily the case, according to mental health authorities.

“It goes both ways,” Kimble Richardson, a licensed mental health counselor told the Indianapolis Star newspaper.

“A high-profile death does much to create awareness about depression. But there is still a stigma to reaching out to get help,” she said.

Nonetheless, health experts are bracing for an uptick like the ones that follow the suicide of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and Kurt Kobain in 1994.

Suicides jumped by 10 percent to 12 percent nationally, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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