Celebrity suicide affects more than one


BENNINGTON -- Robin Williams battled depression and mental illness. He, and more locally, Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna, each individually took their own lives within the last month. When celebrities and well-recognized members of society succumb to such a choice, they leave behind their families, and every life they have touched.

Williams was a middle-aged man who suffered from major depression, substance abuse, Parkinson's Disease and underwent coronary surgery, which is also often associated with depression.

United Counseling Services of Bennington County licensed psychologist and alcohol and drug abuse counselor, Thomas Simek, M.A., said that although that battle may not have been well-publicized, those factors provided the cause for Williams to leave behind everyone in his life.

"I am sure a lot of people have huge reactions to Robin Williams: Someone who everyone kind of knew, at least through his various roles throughout the years," Simek said. "People have been trying to make sense of this. Our clients have been trying to make sense of this, even 12-year-old kids."

Here in Vermont, Hanna, a renowned educator, graduate of Harvard Law School and expert in constitutional law, took her own life at the end of July. She was survived by her husband and two children.

"It has been a trying two months with my wife's relatively recent battle with severe depression," wrote her husband, Paul Henninge in a public note.

Hanna did not battle drug abuse like Williams, and although she battled depression, it established a shock among the community.

"We use the most current conversations on this in helping people recognizing the signs," Simek said. "I don't think the public actually understands how bleak and in pain severe depression can be."

Simek said that many people have experienced depression, discouragement or deep sadness, but the level of depression that these people have experienced seems inescapable to them, and lasts for months or more at a time.

For those with friends or family members who may be falling into severe depression, being educated about its signs and how to approach an individual are key.

People that participate in what Simek called a risky, "death wish" kind of behavior, drug use or self inflicting physical harm to obtain attention may come to sudden calmness in their behavior. Simek said that is often the result when an individual has more than considered ending life.

The best thing to do to intervene is to talk to someone about what is depressing them with a non-judgmental attitude. Simek said even a gut intuition that something is wrong is worth a conversation, which is always better than having a third party intervene.

Other symptoms of depression include a loss of interest or energy, or extreme irritability in teenagers.

When someone like a celebrity takes his or her life, the event often advances contemplation for those battling depression and the death will have a ripple effect across the public.

"Certainly we know of ‘copycat suicides,' which are more common among teenagers," Simek said. "Over the course of a year many (similar) suicides can happen."

For those who suffer from depression, feel isolated or contemplate suicide, Simek said it is important to consider those people who are close and talk to someone, whether known to that person or not.

United Counseling Service has a 24-hour emergency service offered every day of the year for those in crisis. The Bennington hotline is 802-442-5491. Visit http://www.ucsvt.org/programs/emergency-services/ to learn more about the emergency services.

UCS also offers counseling, group therapy and psychiatry in its programming. Additional information is also available to those who see loved ones suffer.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg


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