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Robin Williams’ Suicide: Depression and the Effects of Bullying

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Robin Williams’ Suicide: Depression and the Effects of Bullying

Robin Williams’ suicide in August 2014 shocked his fans and brought up questions regarding his depression and substance abuse. The loveable comedian who had put smiles on the faces of millions of fans worldwide had a dark side that spanned his life and made a final grand appearance with his suicide.

Robin Williams’ suicide, however, will not be the only thing he was known for. His career started in the late 1970s with the infamous sitcom “Mork & Mindy” which was a stepping-stone to a dazzling Hollywood career full of unforgettable roles in films such as ‘Good Will Hunting’ for which he won an Academy Award,  ‘The Dead Poets Society’, ‘One Hour Photo’,  and ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’.

With such a great career and a lovable personality it sometimes becomes hard for people to understand Robin Williams’ suicide and why he had suffered from depression. Yet it seems that depression among celebrities is something that just comes with the territory.

Robin Williams’ Suicide: The Possible Reasons

Robin Williams had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction between the 70’s and early 80s, which was a main cause for ending his first marriage. At the time, Williams was a close friend to comedian John Belushi, who died as a result of an overdose on heroin and cocaine in 1982. Belushi’s death jolted Williams out of his addiction and he became sober for over 20 years only to fall off the wagon in 2005 for which he entered rehab.

Things seemed to have been going downhill for Robin Williams in recent years.  His films were receiving negative reviews, and the man who was once a box-office star was increasingly starting to accept smaller roles as a supporting actor. This brought along money difficulties as Williams was up to his neck in divorce settlements from his previous failed marriages.

Hoping he’d be re-kindling the TV success that jump-started his career and bringing in more money to help with his critical financial situation, Williams returned to television with the comedy ‘The Crazy Ones’, which aired in September 2013.  However, CBS pulled the show off the air after its first season, sending Williams into a deeper stage of depression.

In July 2014 Williams checked himself into rehab again, but this time not for falling off the wagon but rather because he was having a hard time keeping it together as a result of struggling with depression.

Williams’ close friends all agreed that he had not been his usual self especially after his show had been cut. This seemed to have been the final blow leading to Robin Williams’ suicide.

Robin Williams’ Suicide: A Deeper Look at the Links between Bullying and Suicide

It is a well-known fact that a lot of celebrities were bullied as children. Robin Williams was no exception, having been bullied as a child for being overweight. Williams avoided his bullies by spending his time alone at home until he realized he could use humor to gain more popularity and respect among his peers.

But a question not many people ask is whether bullying during childhood has an effect that extends into adulthood. Are bullied children more likely to become depressed as adults? Does a bullied child become more susceptible to suicidal thoughts as an adult? Does the life of an adult who suffered from bullying as a child differ from one who had a normal childhood?

What are the Psychological Effects of Bullying?

The effects of bullying into adulthood and how adults that suffered from bullying as children fair in life is a subject that was explored in a 2013 study by researchers from the Duke University Medical Center and the University of Warwick. The study, which was based on 20 years of data covering the long-term effects of bullying on participants who initially enrolled as adolescents, concludes that  “Bullied children grow into adults who are at increased risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts”.  Below is the complete press release detailing the findings:

The findings, based on more than 20 years of data from a large group of participants initially enrolled as adolescents, are the most definitive to date in establishing the long-term psychological effects of bullying.

Published online Feb. 20, 2013, in JAMA Psychiatry, the study belies a common perception that bullying, while hurtful, inflicts a fleeting injury that victims outgrow.

We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning,” said William E. Copeland, PhD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and lead author of the study. “This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied. This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”

A previous longitudinal study of bullied children, conducted in Finland, found mixed results, concluding that boys had few lasting problems, while girls suffered more long-term psychological harm. That study, however, relied on registry data in the health system that didn’t fully capture psychiatric records.

Copeland and colleagues had a much richer data set. Using the Great Smoky Mountain Study, the research team tapped a population-based sample of 1,420 children ages 9, 11 and 13 from 11 counties in western North Carolina. Initially enrolled in 1993, the children and their parents or caregivers were interviewed annually until the youngsters turned 16, and then periodically thereafter.

At each assessment until age 16, the child and caregiver were asked, among other things, whether the child had been bullied or teased or had bullied others in the three months immediately prior to the interview.

A total of 421 child or adolescent participants – 26 percent of the children – reported being bullied at least once; 887 said they suffered no such abuse. Boys and girls reported incidents at about the same rate. Nearly 200 youngsters, or 9.5 percent, acknowledged bullying others; 112 were bullies only, while 86 were both bullies and victims.

Of the original 1,420 children, more than 1,270 were followed up into adulthood. The subsequent interviews included questions about the participants’ psychological health.

As adults, those who said they had been bullied, plus those who were both victims and aggressors, were at higher risk for psychiatric disorders compared with those with no history of being bullied. The young people who were only victims had higher levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia.

Those who were both bullies and victims had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders, plus the highest levels of suicidal thoughts, depressive disorders, generalized anxiety and panic disorder. Bullies were also at increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.

The researchers were able to sort out confounding factors that might have contributed to psychiatric disorders, including poverty, abuse and an unstable or dysfunctional home life.

“Bullying is potentially a problem for bullies as well as for victims,” said senior author E. Jane Costello, PhD, associate director of research at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “Bullying, which we tend to think of as a normal and not terribly important part of childhood, turns out to have the potential for very serious consequences for children, adolescents and adults.


More on the Effects of Bullying on Adults

Tackling the effects of bullying in adulthood is another study published in July 2014 by the American Psychiatric Association based on data from the British National Child Development Study, a study spanning 50 years covering a group of participants all born in the 1st week of 1958. The authors of the study analyzed data from 7,771 participants who were exposed to bullying at ages 7 and 11 years, and who continued to participate in follow-up assessments between ages 23 and 50 years.

The study concluded in its results that:

“Bullying victimization was associated with poorer health outcomes in adult life. Being bullied (occasionally or frequently) was associated with higher levels of psychological distress at age 23 and also at age 50, almost 40 years after exposure. Being frequently bullied was associated with an increased risk of both depression and anxiety disorders at age 45, and also with suicidality. Children who were occasionally bullied were at increased risk of depression”.

Further Effects of Bullying

This study also came up with an additional finding; namely that the impact of bullying on victims did not only affect their psychological health as adults, but also affected socio-economic status, relationships, and overall well-being. Other effects of bullying included:

  1. Having lower life-satisfaction levels at age 50
  2. Having a negative future outlook
  3. Having a higher risk for being single at age 50
  4. Being less socially active than peers
  5. Having lower levels of education
  6. Suffering from higher unemployment rates
  7. Earning less money than peers

All of this goes to show that the effects of bullying cannot be brushed off and forgotten once the bullying situation is over. Which is why the issue of bullying has to be taken seriously and eradicated at an early age before it develops into a silent monster that can forever alter the victim’s life.

Need more information on the effects of bullying? Read on:

The Psychological Effects of Bullying

Understanding the Effects of Bullying

Also learn about how Robin Williams’ daugter, Zelda, suffered from cyber bullying after his death.

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