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Death Of Robin Williams Sparks Conversation On Suicide Prevention, Mental Illness

Themba Hadebe / AP

Themba Hadebe / AP

A Sacramento-area suicide prevention organization says it has seen an increase in call volume in the wake of Robin Williams’ death, which investigators say was the result of suicide.

The day after Williams’ death was announced, call volume at the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service jumped by 253 percent compared to the week before, says Liseanne WickProgram Manager. The organization receives up to 32,100 calls per year.

A spike in calls is common especially in suicides that are covered by media and mental health professionals say there has been a concern about contagion, where one highly publicized death can lead to an increase in suicides or more attempts.

Wick says it’s key to provide the community with resources and to send the message that suicide is preventable.

“Help is available, treatment works and you're not  alone,” says Wick. 

In 2011, the suicide rate in California was 10.6 percent, the rate for the U.S. was 12.7 percent. Wick says new studies show that middle-age males are the most at risk for suicides.

Patricia Pavoney, a support group facilitator with National Alliance On Mental Illness Sacramento, says there are some positive effects in the wake of a high-profile death including an increase in public awareness about mental illness. About 90 percent of those who die by suicide have been diagnosed with mood disorder or mental illness, including depression.

“I think several things come out ... including more community awareness and dialogue, which is generally a good thing,” says Pavoney. “One of the big problems that keep people from getting treatment is stigma.”

Pavoney says Williams’ life and struggle with addiction, depression and bipolar disorder highlights the complexities of mental illness.

“Mental illness is similar to chronic disease like diabetesthere are ups and downs,” says Pavoney.   

Williams, who was public about his struggles, was seen as an example of how someone can lead a successful life while dealing with his illness. His death, Pavoney says, felt like a huge blow to those who are grappling with the same issues. 

“He had tremendous creativity and people loved him, and he still struggled,” says Pavoney. “It’s nothing to be ashamed about.”

Where to get help:

Mental health professionals say it’s important for the public to know that there are resources available in the Sacramento region for those struggling.

The Suicide Prevention Crisis Line is operated by WellSpace Health, which provides crisis counseling and free sessions with licensed therapists.

NAMI Sacramento offers support groups for individuals, as well as their family or friends, who are dealing mental health issues. 

WellSpace Health offers various services in Suicide Prevention and Mental Health & Counseling. 24hr Suicide Prevention Crisis Lines

(916) 368.3111

(530) 885.2300


National Hotline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

NAMI Sacramento runs support groups for individuals and family or friends who are struggling with mental illness.

Phone: (916) 364-1642

NAMI Sacramento Programs and Services


Sacramento County Adult Mental Health Services


Helping Someone in Suicidal Crisis Handout

Marnette Federis

Former Digital News Editor

Marnette Federis was a digital news editor at Capital Public Radio. Her journalism experiences include stints as a reporter, videographer and Web producer at traditional print outlets, digital-only publications and a television station.  Read Full Bio 

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