Thinking about Robin Williams, Chronic Illness, and Suicide Risk

Someone I know posted the following today on Facebook after news of Robin William’s Parkinson’s diagnosis broke: “If you should choose to take drugs and abuse alcohol, one of the many consequences is brain damage causing Parkinson’s.” How heartless. And wrong. It must be nice up there on that high horse.

For the record, there is no scientific link between drug and alcohol abuse and Parkinson’s Disease (PD). (There are, however, links to things like exposure to pesticides and clinical depression. And the medications used to treat PD can cause new substance and non-substance addictions to emerge.) It’s in part because of judgmental attitudes like this (what we refer to in disability studies as “the moral model”) that people with chronic illnesses and disabilities become depressed and attempt suicide. There is plenty of evidence that points to a significant increase in the risk of suicide among individuals with multiple chronic conditions, particularly those over 65.

If you’re feeling hopeless, please seek help. Depression and pain cast a dark shadow that can be impossible to escape without assistance. No matter who you are, or how broken you feel, people care about you, and they want to help.