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Robin Williams Suicide Causes: Dementia or Antidepressants To Blame?

Most people are aware of the recent tragedy involving well-known actor and comedic legend Robin Williams. Although he was an extremely talented actor with a brilliant comedic talent, he commit suicide on August 11, 2014. This sent most of his close family members, friends, celebrities, and even the general public into shock. Most people were puzzled as to why a celebrity of Robin Williams status would take his own life.

Unfortunately most people don’t realize that celebrities can have stress and mental illness too. Some speculated that he had significant financial troubles and was in major debt. Other suggested that he was battling major depression coupled with financial difficulties. Upon examination of his body following the suicidal act of hanging himself with a belt, there were no illicit drugs or alcohol found in his bloodstream.

Don’t most celebrities overdose on illicit drugs? Not in the case of Robin Williams. He hadn’t attempted to overdose, rather something else may have driven him to suicide. At the time of his death, it was confirmed that standard levels of an atypical antidepressant were found in his body. What antidepressant was he taking? Remeron a.k.a. Mirtazapine. It should also be noted that a prescription for the antipsychotic drug Seroquel was nearby and appeared to have been recently taken.

What may have caused Robin Williams suicide?

There are a number of factors that may have lead to the death of renowned actor and comedian Robin Williams. Although doctors have concurred upon the fact his autopsy revealed Lewy body dementia, the fact that he was taking an antidepressant cannot be ignored as a potential factor that may have lead to suicide. The fact is that antidepressants can cause increased depression and suicidality among many individuals.

  • Lewy body dementia: This is the second most common type of dementia diagnosed after Alzheimer’s disease. It leads to an inevitable decline in cognitive function including memorization, attentional processes, and cognitive acuity. It can also cause visual hallucinations which involves people seeing things that aren’t there as well as depression.  The degree of severity regarding the dementia is currently unknown, but one would speculate that it was relatively mild.
  • Depression: It’s obvious at the time of Williams death that he was severely depressed. Some have suggested that it may be due to financial problems, but others believe it stemmed from dementia-induced brain abnormalities. Outside stressors as well as an improper reaction to taking a cocktail of psychotropic medications may have increased his depression.
  • Antidepressant: It is important not to ignore the fact that at the time of his death, Williams was on Remeron (Mirtazapine). This isn’t to single out Remeron as a “bad drug” and suggest that other drugs are better – that’s clearly not the case. However, it needs to be known that while many antidepressants can be helpful to some people with depression, in other cases they end up not working or even making the person feel more depressed. This is why all antidepressants carry a “black box” warning suggesting that they may cause increased suicidality.
  • Antipsychotics: In the surrounding area of Williams home, a prescription for the antipsychotic Seroquel was found. It is known that many antipsychotics can significantly alter healthy brain functioning and impair overall cognition. Based on information available to those who surveyed the suicide, it appeared as though Williams had taken Seroquel. Since it wasn’t in his body, he may have been going through early stages of Seroquel withdrawal, which may account for increased depression and/or agitation.
  • Hopelessness: A common cause of suicide is an underlying sense of hopelessness. Typically many factors contribute to this feeling of hopelessness. Regardless of what may have been contributing to him feeling hopeless, he wasn’t able to inspire any sort of hope for his future. He may have already known that there was no cure for his particular condition if he was aware that he had dementia; making him want to give up rather than live without conscious control of his existence.
  • Paranoia: The Lewy body dementia was thought to be contributing to the paranoia Williams was experiencing. Paranoia is characterized by extreme fear and often influenced by dopaminergic dysfunction. Some speculate that he may have experienced a significant degree of paranoia that lead him to take his own life.
  • Stressors: Environmental problems such as financial issues and relationship troubles may have lead to his suicide or contributed to his feelings of depression. While the full details will never be available to the public, it is likely that some stressors may have contributed to his decision. The stress from trying psychiatric medications and/or fear of stigma associated with being on psychotropic medication may have also played a role.

The Bottom Line: Antidepressants & Antipsychotics can cause suicidal ideation

Despite the finding of potential Lewy body dementia development, the two psychotropic drugs that Williams was taking both can cause increased suicidal thoughts as a side effect. The fact that the general press neglected to report this fact remains somewhat odd. It is a near guarantee that the press would’ve reported if he had been high on heroin or cocaine during his suicidal act, but the fact that he was only taking a prescription seemed to have gotten overlooked.

Does this mean that Remeron and Seroquel are evil drugs and should never be taken? No, absolutely not. However, it does mean that not all people who take drugs in attempt to improve their mental illness actually get relief. In fact, many individuals end up taking drugs that are supposed to work, but end up making them feel far worse. Although in Williams case we don’t know the exact reason why he decided to take his life, but it may have been a result of antidepressant side effects.

Collected data reveals that there have been over 400 suicide attempts (some of which were completed) associated with the antidepressant Mirtazapine. It is quite odd that reporters would fail to do a little bit of statistical research and figure out that this drug may have played a pivotal role in Williams’ demise. Additionally it is important not to ignore the fact that he had been taking Seroquel prior to his death, which may have also elicited a detrimental effect upon Williams’ psychological functioning.

It remains troubling that the general media and most of the public seem to think that psychotropic “prescription” drugs only lead to improvement in the conditions that they are supposed to treat. If the average person (or reporter) were to do a bit of research, they would find that many psychotropic drugs can significantly increase suicidal risk in some people. Therefore it needs to be highlighted that although depression from Lewy body dementia may have been a contributing factor, the regimen of pharmaceutical drugs Williams was taking may have been equally (if not more) important in leading to the act of suicide.

For this reason, it can only be hoped that individuals work to improve psychiatric treatment outcomes for the future. If you have any thoughts on the death of Robin Williams or various contributing psychological factors, feel free to share in the comments section below.

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • S A March 8, 2015, 3:16 pm

    Than you for this post. It’s very true that when combined with antidepressants and physiological problems such as early dementia, antipsychotics such as Seroquel can cause suicidal tendencies.

    The warning for Seroquel reads as follows: Elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death. Seroquel is not approved for the treatment of patients with dementia-related psychosis (see BOXED WARNING).

    I agree, the public should research antidepressants and antipsychotics very carefully to learn about their severe side effects, which in this instance may have pushed a great individual to take his own life.

  • Frances May 16, 2015, 6:02 pm

    Great and accurate article. Thank you for that. Suicide? NO way. This drug is horrific. I urge everyone to take a look at how antidepressant medications ARE the PROBLEM. I am in the wretched, long and painful process of withdrawing from this particular medication which is why I have been researching it. It has destroyed the last 15 years of my life but I had no idea that was happening it at the time. Doctors will call it “discontinuation syndrome” to make it sound pretty but it is a horrific drug that destroys lives.

    The truth is the withdrawal takes years and it’s debilitating process when you’re lucky enough to survive it. This is true of all mind altering drugs. Tom Cruise had a very good point in 2005. Robin did not kill himself because of depression. It is the drug that kills. Why is the quote below kept so well hidden from the public’s attention? No one is taking about THIS. Sad.

    “The medical examiner’s report cites an antidepressant drug was in Williams’ system at the time of his death. The particular antidepressant, Mirtazapine, (also known as Remeron) carries 10 international drug regulatory warnings on causing suicidal ideation.” If only the sentiments from one of Williams’ finest roles in Awakenings had been taken literally in his personal life: “The human spirit is more powerful than any drug and that is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. These are the things that matter.” -Frances

  • tobi mcintyre June 12, 2015, 10:39 am

    When a person is on Remeron and Seroquel, he or she lose all sense of reality and we shake so hard we think we are going to die. The doctor put me on both and it caused seizures and Parkinson’s symptoms and I went crazy. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I knew I had to stop taking these medications or I would lose my life. It was the most terrible thing that ever happen to me. I can only imagine the torture and not being able to control one’s movement or thoughts, rages, and disorientation.

    Why was poor Robin on these medications? Any doctor knows that two medications causing suicide thoughts are like giving someone the lethal dose of insanity and complete human soul destruction. He didn’t commit suicide if he didn’t know what was happening. What if he was in a blackout stage? These medications mess with the brain. It’s just amazing to me, that no one has even noticed this.

    • MK Mendoza August 14, 2016, 1:08 pm

      I couldn’t agree more!!!! VERY WELL STATED. It comes with the stigma of “mental illness”, once “diagnosed” their lives and suffering get thrown completely out the window. The “mentally ill” are the scapegoats of our society. How we can turn such a blind eye to their suffering especially when they decide to trust in a medical system that claims to help them…

      Then in an attempt to do what they’re told… To cooperate and take their meds, they suffer far more from the many horrific side effects that cause more damage than does the original “diagnosis”. We abandon them. It’s beyond negligent, it cruel and unusual punishment for “being sick”. It’s irreprehensible, a legal form of torture. We have simply replaced the biological lobotomy with a chemical one.

      How we diagnose and deal with “the mentally ill” says far more about how disconnected we as a society have become from our own humanity, from each other and ourselves. It’s the establishment that allows this to go on and does not demand better answers that is the real definition of twisted and sick.

  • Aimee November 5, 2015, 8:01 am

    Atypical anti-psychotics are constantly being prescribed off label, 1st line, to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. This is torture as it can cause these patients to become agitated and then they are given more because of the agitation. The people who prescribe atypical anti-psychotics need to try them out on themselves for a month, see how great they feel.

    • MK Mendoza August 14, 2016, 1:33 pm

      WHEN THE MEDICAL SYSTEM DOES AND PAYS FOR ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES, WHERE EACH TREATMENT IS GIVEN GOVERNMENT FUNDING EQALLY, THATS WHEN WE WILL HAVE A REAL CHOICE. Now two often too many people are told, well we give these meds to them because they are the lesser of two evils and half the time the very drugs we are giving them to “treat” the aggression or agitation are drugs that actually cause these very symptoms and/or the withdrawal from them does so we have to keep upping the dose…

      Until the side effect of the drug actually kills them which is exactly what happened to my dad. They upped his meds until the meds just shut down his body and he could no longer move or communicate, lost the ability to swallow… Shut down his entire body and killed him. I watched it happen in a matter of days while the medical establishment stood by and not just let it happen but made it happen.

      GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE WHO THESE DRUGS WORK FOR, BUT THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE WHO THEY DO NOT WORK FOR. UNTIL $$$ GOES TO ALL TYPES OF TREATMENTS PROVEN TO BE EFFECTIVE, WE AREN’T GIVEN A TRUE CHOICE.

  • JF November 9, 2015, 1:44 pm

    I lost my fifteen year old son to suicide and he had been taking Remeron only six days. I believe that Remeron directly caused his death.

    • Pw April 25, 2016, 4:02 pm

      I lost my 48 Y.O. Father (who was an extremely healthy man) to suicide. He had been taking Remeron for 6 days as well. I also believe the act was a side effect of Remeron.

  • Julie Greene, MFA November 24, 2015, 2:05 am

    My friend’s mother had Lewy Body. She died because she was incorrectly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at McLean Hospital. She was given Risperdal. According to my friend, Risperdal causes death in people with Lewy Body Dementia. I can imagine that Seroquel also causes a person with Lewy Body to become much, much worse, if not, have a fatal reaction.

  • Yolanda Parker December 29, 2015, 8:14 pm

    My mother took seroquel for several years, the night and release. She was diagnosed with vascular dementia. She is very tough. She is bipolar and these medicines aren’t for everyone.

  • Commenter January 6, 2016, 7:33 am

    Come on, Frances, “[A]ntidepressant medications ARE the PROBLEM.” You might want to rethink that. Antidepressant meds have saved my life multiple times. Have comments like those here scared sick people away from meds? What if your comment stopped a depressed person from taking meds? And what if they subsequently became so depressed that they took their own life? Don’t act like antidepressants are the boogeyman. Let each person decide for him or her self.

    • MK Mendoza August 14, 2016, 1:43 pm

      Come on, above commentator…no one is trying to stop you from taking these meds. We are just advocating that all the information get out there good AND bad. When ALL THE INFORMATION is out there and other alternative and effective treatments are equally funded and as easily accessible, then we WILL have a CHOICE. BUT IGNORING THESE STORIES IS JUST AS BAD AS IGNORING YOURS.

      LET ALL SIDES BE TOLD AND ALL SIDES BE GIVEN EQUAL SUPPORT AND AIRTIME AND THEN WE WILL HAVE A TRUE CHOICE. AND THEN LET EACH PERSON DECIDE FOR ONESELF. These drugs may also be effective for one period of time and not another. We need choice at all stages of our lives to decide how and what we choose to deal with our so called “illnesses”.

  • Hope January 15, 2016, 7:14 am

    Wow what I read opened my eyes alot. I hated to hear that Robin Williams would take his life. I watch his movies alot and wonder why. I lost a son 7 years ago at 16 to this disease of sucide. We all ask why…. and the answer we found none but I do know both Robin and my son are well missed and loved. R.I.P. Robin Wiliams and my son.

  • Nancy Hurr February 2, 2016, 3:54 pm

    My adult daughter recently attempted suicide, she had been stressed over her estranged husband’s behavior towards her and their children. She was also working two full time jobs. Her Dr kept prescribing anxiety pills, antidepressants, and muscle relaxers. She had a pharmacy inside her home. Many of the pills have suicidal warnings. The Dr was fired. My daughter lived thank the Lord and her family is once again in tact and working towards a healthier future.

    The outcome could have been devastatingly different. To our Lord and God I give my thanks for their intervention. I’m still healing from her attempt. My prayers go out to the family of Robin. I believe 100% that these drugs they offer our loved ones for relief, are causing the rise of suicides. We suffer while the mental health institutes and pharmaceutical institutes use our loved ones as Guinea pigs for their new drugs.

    They should be held accountable as should the Doctors who are too freely prescribing these drugs. My daughter went for help after her attempt and they sent her home with the very type of pills that put her in that dark place where she had swallowed them all. They said these pills are not as strong and are more closely monitored.

    Grrrrr, You can’t monitor a patient 24/7. I can only pray she doesn’t relapse. And to the family of Robin I would simply say please hold someone accountable for the death of a man the whole world loved. Let’s stop these people from legally pushing drugs that are harming and killing our loved ones.

  • Funky Hobo March 31, 2016, 7:48 am

    Mixing chemical drugs is very dangerous. I can tell that withdrawal of psychotropical drugs with Seroquel can cause suicide. I was taking one typical antipsychotic drug (…) and one atypical antipsychotic drug (Seroquel), the typical antipsychotic drug disappeared suddenly from my country’s market… A few weeks later I… exploded.

    Suicide thoughts for months… Thinking also about killing some people. I would not give shit about my life and anyone’s life. I could kill and I could kill myself too. Everything in the world looks suddenly so absurd and so ridiculous. I am ok now but since 2009, I feel so angry. And since I heard the death of Mr. Williams, I am out of control concerning psychiatry and antipsychotic drugs.

  • God help June 10, 2016, 7:47 pm

    My family member was battling depression. The doctor had him on Seroquel and Cymbalta. He felt terrible. The doctor told him to double the Cymbalta. Then a week later he took his life. People be aware of the side effects.

  • Jane Davidson August 8, 2016, 10:26 pm

    My brother-in-law committed suicide while taking Remeron for insomnia. He was 59 years old and a medical doctor. Everyone that knew him knows this would have never happened if not for this dangerous drug. Remeron does carry a black box warning for suicide ideation. But, the warnings are not taken seriously. IT NEEDS TO BE TAKEN OFF THE MARKET. For men in their late fifties and early sixties taking Remeron it’s not a question of if they will attempt suicide but, when.

  • linda August 21, 2016, 10:11 pm

    Wasn’t Robin Williams a recovering addict? Addiction robs you of being able to have pleasurable feelings. There is no cure for addiction. He knew that. I know it. My son has been on Remeron with therapy for three months. He was developing alcohol dependence, and went through detox.

    It has made him develop a more consistent sleep pattern, so he has been able to develop some tools for survival. He also has anxiety and depression. A phenomenal person, that our strong Italian catholic community loves.

    But, recovery from addiction is a multidisciplinary process, and so much is still to be learned. Hopelessness and depression is a given. Maybe the drugs just simply weren’t working for Robin. Just a thought.

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