It seems that in our world today, social media affects just about every part of our lives. Whether its 24/7 news, following blogs, or keeping in touch with friends, it’s always there, all the time. There is an entire war of opinions on whether this constant access to communication is helping or hurting us; but that’s another topic for another time. When I heard in the news about Robin Williams’ death, I was baffled because I grew up on his roles in so many family movies: Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, etc. I was even more upset when I heard it was a suicide.
Having been recently diagnosed with depression and going to counseling to learn how to better cope with my mental illness has definitely been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to face. The way I felt with my depression was that each small thing that I had to encounter in my day became the next big tipping point; if it went well, I could continue in mild mental discomfort; if it went terribly, then I found myself spiraling downward until I couldn’t get any lower. I started watching movies about people with depression or movies about suicide, and it all felt so glamorous. These people’s lives that I saw ending were not viewed or represented as a death, but a romantic departure from their misery. And this is where the danger lies. When you are vulnerable and in pain, it’s so easy to look for “a way out,” though no such thing exists. Coping with depression takes time and work. This is where social media and Robin Williams’ tragic death come in.
Robin Williams was well known for his character voice for Genie from Disney’s Aladdin, and when the news of Williams’ suicide hit, so did the phrase “Genie, you’re free.” The more and more I read that phrase, the more it hurts me to see. Robin Williams suffered from severe depression — an intense illness that takes a specific concoction of therapy and sometimes medication to even scratch the surface of all of the disease’s complexities. The problematic part of this statement is that he is free because he chose to end his life.
The hard truth of the matter is that he isn’t free, he’s dead.
Instead of being realistic and saying what is really at hand, social media has taken the starry skies of Aladdin, released the genie from his shackles, and sent him to the sky. People who don’t know what depression feels like don’t understand the tempting beauty of those images when you are at a low; they don’t know that it is so easy to look up to something like that and think, wow, I can have this too.
Everyone’s mental illnesses are entirely complex and unique to each person, and Robin Williams’ death was indeed awful, and I feel sorry knowing that he thought there was no other way out. But as social media users, we are responsible for the messages we produce and send out. We are responsible for setting social norms and deciding what messages are okay and not okay. I ask you to think about these things not only from your perspective and how it affects you, but how it affects your friends or the person sitting next to you in the coffee shop.
Be mindful of what you say and spread.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, please speak up. Tell a counselor, parent, or medical professional, and know that you are not alone.
Suicide hot-line number:
Read more: Suicide contagion and social media: The dangers of sharing ‘Genie, you’re free’ from the Washington Post.