The Robin Williams Tragedy: Publicized Suicide and the Stigma Problem

August 15, 2014 4:20 PM

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Any suicide death is tragic. And, when the person was so famous, beloved and funny as Robin Williams was, the death is even more jarring. News reports attempt to dispel the natural anxiety raised by such an event by conveying every small bit of information they can uncover. This reporting is often intrusively painful to the friends and family of the deceased and may be dangerous to the public. (The impact of media reporting on the risk of suicide contagion has already been discussed by several other experts. We would like to discuss another untoward consequence of very public and highly reported suicides; namely, the impact on our perceptions of mental illness and stigma.

Unfortunately, to a large extent, public perceptions of mental illness and the mentally ill are formed by the media. And much of the reporting about mental illness (and substance abuse) focuses on the worst and most florid outcomes. We hear about Robin Williams' suicide and Philip Seymour Hoffman's ...

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