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.