Are people who commit suicide selfish and cowards?

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about Fox News anchor Shephard Smith’s comment that Robin Williams was a “coward” for committing suicide and Todd Bridges’s Tweet calling Williams’s suicide “a very selfish act”? Do you think people who commit suicide are cowards and/or selfish?




Dear Patrick,

First, a little bit of background on the story:

On Monday, August 11, at 11:45 a.m., actor and comedian Robin Williams—best known for his roles in “Mork and Mindy,” “The Crazy Ones,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” among others—was found unresponsive at his home in Tiburon, California, by his personal assistant. He had “a belt secured around his neck,” Marin County Sherrif’s Lt. Keith Boyd told reporters in a press conference the following day. The official cause of death has been revealed as “asphyxia due to hanging.”

Mere hours after the news of Robin Williams’s tragic suicide was made public, Fox News report Shephard Smith called Williams a “coward” for taking his own life. “One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight,” Smith said. “Because their father killed himself in a fit of depression.” “…[S]omething inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today,” Shephard concluded.

Todd Bridges—star of the television show Diff’rent Stokes—used Twitter to call Williams’s suicide “a very selfish act.” “It’s a very selfish act you’re not thinking about your family your friends or your fans,” Bridges wrote. “much better way get help or if you know someone like that get them help even if it means getting them locked up in a psychiatric hospital.” (The grammatical errors are Bridges’s and not mine.) Both men have since “apologized” for their “inconsiderate” comments.

As someone who is a survivor of suicide—my 42-year-old brother took his own life on May 4, 2010—all I want to say to Shephard Smith and Todd Bridges is “WOW.” (Well, really I’d like to yell “WTF!!!”) That two men—one of whom (Bridges) has publically battled his own demons (drugs and alcohol) which earned him multiple stints in jail/prison—would be so callous and judgmental about another man’s struggles with depression is repulsive (though in the case of the Fox New reporter certainly not surprising). Like cancer and diabetes, depression is a real illness, and people need to get educated about the very real effects of the disease before they start taking to television and to Twitter to pass judgment on an act that many of us could never envision for ourselves.

Do I think that Robin Williams—or my brother or the other 50,000 Americans who successfully complete suicide in any given year—was a coward or selfish? I answer that with an emphatic “NO.” As I learned in my Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group, people who commit suicide don’t necessarily want to die; they just want the pain to end. For these people, their despair is overwhelming, and suicide seems to be the only option left. Completing suicide does not make them cowards; it makes them people who are in so much agony and distress that death becomes the only relief available. As Sally Brampton writes in Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression, “Killing oneself is, in a way, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive.”

Like other people, I wish that Robin Williams, my brother, and all those who have suicided knew how much they mattered to the friends and family they left behind. I wish they knew how much they were loved. I wish they knew how much we would miss them. However, those who suffer with severe depression often cannot comprehend that at all, and they are not selfish because they are unable to see beyond their own deep and intense pain. They are simply people who need our compassion, not our derision and disrespect.

At the end of my first SOS meeting, the elderly facilitator discretely handed me a 3×5 notecard on which he had handwritten: “My hope is that one day you will no longer just remember how your loved one died but that you will only remember how well he or she lived.” I’m not yet there with my brother, but I do reminisce about our life together more often than I think about how his life ended. My hope is that Robin Williams’s suicide will compel us to have a more public—and a more honest and a more knowledgeable—dialogue about depression and suicide and a less judgmental attitude toward those for whom suicide was the only way to end their despair.


*If you or someone you know is suicidal, there is help available. Please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800)273-8255. You do matter, you are loved, and you will be missed.

One thought on “Are people who commit suicide selfish and cowards?

  1. Shephard Smith’s abusive comments about Robin Williams, who can no longer answer back, is what’s cowardly … and despicable. Like just about everything else on that vile, ignorant mess called Fox “news”.

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