Robin Williams, the Academy Award-winning comedian and actor who delighted generations of audiences with his rapid-paced wit and eye for roles that tugged the heartstrings as much as the funny bone, died Monday at his San Francisco Bay area home, of an apparent suicide. He was 63.
Multiple news outlets reported the death Monday afternoon, after reports from the Marin County sheriff’s office revealed the actor had been found unresponsive, and a preliminary investigation suggests a possible cause of death of suicide due to asphyxia.
Williams had been open about his struggles with drugs and alcohol earlier in his career, as well as his battle with depression. The actor had recently checked into a rehab center for long-term sobriety, and press representatives have reported the actor was grappling with severe depression at the time of his death.
Williams leaves behind three children from previous marriages, including 25-year-old actor Zelda Williams, and his wife Susan Schneider, who said in a statement Monday that: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. … It is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”
To pick a signature role for Williams would be a tough proposition. Television roles bookended his career; he rose to fame as the titular alien on Mork and Mindy in the late ’70s, and recently played the patriarch of an unorthodox ad agency in CBS’ The Crazy Ones, cancelled this spring after a single season. But he’s best known for the variety of starring roles he played on film throughout his life: an inspirational teacher in Dead Poets Society, the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, the incomparable Mrs. Doubtfire, a loving father and drag club owner in The Birdcage, Matt Damon’s therapist and mentor in Good Will Hunting, and Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum franchise, set to release its third installment this Christmas.
Innumerable celebrities expressed their condolences alongside fans through social media, many sharing stories of their encounters with Williams throughout their careers. Shrines to the actor are also popping up across the country, with the most noteworthy built around a bench where a pivotal scene from Good Will Hunting was filmed.
For more information on suicide prevention resources in Wisconsin, click here.
The video game industry is taking itself more seriously.
Besides the usual talk of polygons, virtual worlds and artificial intelligence at this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, there are discussions led by game makers about such socially conscious topics as designing for gamers with disabilities, battling depression at game studios and tackling hate speech in online game communities.
The organizers of GDC, which kicked off Monday at the Moscone Center and continues through Friday, have expanded the conference’s advocacy-themed sessions with panels featuring such titles as “Beyond Graphics: Reaching the Visually Impaired Gamer,” “How to Subversively Queer Your Work” and “Women Don’t Want to Work in Games (and Other Myths).”
“It’s something that in some way or another has always been part of the conference, but it’s something that we’ve found interest in genuinely continue to grow as the industry has become more diverse and inclusive,” said Simon Carless, executive vice president of UBM Tech Game Network, which organizes GDC and several other technology conventions.
This year’s conference has attracted about 23,000 game developers and executives from across the globe. Carless and other GDC organizers, which includes an advocacy advisory committee made up of game designers, hope that examinations of racism, misogyny and homophobia in games aid the industry’s continued fight for wider cultural legitimacy.
Rosalind Wiseman, author of the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” which inspired the Lindsay Lohan film “Mean Girls,” was part of a Tuesday discussion about gaming and social hierarchies among boys. The panel examined how the games that young men choose to play effect their popularity, as well as their social competence in moments of conflict.
Other speakers include Adam Orth, who left Microsoft Corp. last year after fiery Twitter exchanges about “always-on” technology; Manveer Heir, a game maker who works on the “Mass Effect” sci-fi series, which features gay and lesbian characters; and Toshifumi Nakabayashi, who organizes an annual game workshop to support Fukushima disaster victims.
Despite the refreshed focus on real-world issues at the convention, how to view and interact with ever-changing virtual worlds will ultimately take center stage at GDC. PlayStation 4 creator Sony Corp. teased its rendition of virtual reality technology during a Tuesday presentation called “Driving the Future of Innovation at Sony Computer Entertainment.”
Meanwhile, a handful of developers are showing off software using the VR goggles Oculus Rift, which captured attendees’ attention at last year’s conference. The exhibit “ALT.CTRL.GDC” highlights 14 games that utilize such alternative control schemes, like a piano-powered version of the sidescroller “Canabalt” and a holographic display called Voxiebox.
This year’s conference, the largest annual gathering of game creators outside the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June, is the first since Sony and Microsoft respectively released its PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles last year. Several sessions scheduled this year are dedicated to creating games for those systems, as well as more popular mobile platforms.
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It’s no wonder nearly one in 10 Americans suffers from depression.
“Top risk factors include being unable to work or unemployed; having no health insurance; suffering from obesity,” psychologist Gregory L. Jantz notes in a news release, citing a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study. “Unfortunately, those topics have dominated headlines for the past five years. What’s worse, by 2020, the World Health Organization estimates depression will be the second most debilitating disease worldwide.”
The author of “Overcoming Anxiety, Worry and Fear” (www.aplaceofhope.com), says these negative emotions along with sustained, excessive stress can lead to depression, which now overshadows other problems for which patients seek help at his clinic.
“Depression can be rooted in a number of problems, and those need to be addressed – simply taking a pill is not usually effective treatment. Anger, fear and guilt can all be underlying causes, even when the person isn’t aware she’s experiencing those feelings.”
A holistic treatment approach, which may or may not include medication, helps people overcome a bout of the debilitating illness, and learn techniques to manage it themselves, he says.
People at risk of depression can work at maintaining their emotional equilibrium by counterbalancing negative feelings with optimism, hope, and joy. This is most effective if they do this holistically, addressing the four main categories of human need.
“By purposefully feeding the intellectual, relational, physical, and spiritual aspects of your life positive emotions, you can achieve balance,” Jantz says.
He offers these suggestions:
Intellectual. Be aware of what you’re feeding to your mind. Try reading a positive, uplifting book, and setting aside time in your day to fill yourself up intellectually with constructive, encouraging messages. Be aware of what you are reading and listening to, and seek to counter the negative input we all get with positive influences.
Relational. Think of a person you really enjoy talking to, someone who makes you feel good about yourself or someone who’s just fun to be around. Plan today to spend time with that person this week, even if it’s just for a moment or two. Make the effort to verbalize your appreciation for his or her positive presence in your day.
Physical. Physical activity is a wonderful way of promoting emotional health. Engage in some mild exercise this week. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Stroll through a city park. The goals are to get your body moving and to allow you to focus on something other than yourself and your surroundings. Greet your neighbors, stop at the park and watch someone playing with his dog, or cheer at a Little League game. Intentionally open up your focus to include the broader world around you.
Spiritual. Take some time to nourish your spirit. If you are a member of a religious organization, make sure to attend services this week. If you are not, listen to some religious or meditative music. Spend time in quiet reflection, meditation, or prayer. Intentionally engage in an activity that replenishes and reconnects your spirit.
If you are not depressed but feel anxious and stressed, have trouble sleeping or find you’re not content much of the time, Jantz says it’s time to start taking care of yourself.
“Depression is painful and as debilitating as any other disease,” he says. “Take steps to de-stress your life and to work on emotional balance before it gets worse.”
Every year, health.com uses data from federal health agencies to identify the states with the highest rates of depression, psychological distress, and other indicators of poor mental health.
Although genetics and personal circumstances play a primary role in mental health, factors such as economic hardship and the lack of affordable health care also play a significant role. These factors vary from state to state, often due to local government policies.
This year’s list of the nation’s top ten most depressed states shows that 70 percent of them are located in Bible Belt states, where right-wing governments promote policies that favor the wealthiest citizens. These states curtail government services in order to provide tax cuts to top income earners. Most have relatively few regulations concerning pollution, consumer protection, workplace safety, wage suppor, and social justice. They tend to also promote abstinence-only education and limit women’s reproductive choices, while offering only very limited health care programs for poor and working poor.
Ironically, many of the states on the list are considered among the best for business, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate advocacy groups.
The nation’s most miserable state, according to health.com is West Virginia, where a 2000 study found that nearly 1 in 3 residents living in rural areas had “a high level” of depression symptoms, but almost half had never been treated for the condition by any doctor, let alone a psychiatrist or mental-health specialist.
The state ranking second is Tennessee, where nearly 10 percent of residents have experienced an episode of major depression in the previous year and there are high rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
Oklahoma, which has a very high rate of poverty, comes in fourth. Fifth is Nevada, which is not unduly influenced by right-wing religious thinking but rather by suffering disproportionately from the economic downturn.
In sixth through 10th place are:
- Missouri, where the rate of serious psychological distress is 13 percent.
- Mississippi, which has the highest rate of depression in the nation (14.8 percent), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it has the third-highest rate of frequent mental distress (13.5 percent).
- Michigan, which has experienced a severe economic decline and is, while not a Bible Belt state, the home of the nation’s second-highest number of right-wing militias and some of the nation’s most radical religious organizations.
- Kentucky, which has a high rate joblessness and rampant drug abuse.
- Indiana, which has high unemployment and a severe shortage, like most Midwestern states, of psychiatrists.
- Arkansas, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of depression among young adults.
Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights, a study involving nearly 32,000 high school students found.
Those factors raised the odds and were a substantial influence on suicide attempts even when known risk contributors like depression and being bullied were considered, said study author Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University psychologist and researcher.
His study found a higher rate of suicide attempts even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed when they lived in counties less supportive of gays and with relatively few Democrats. A high proportion of Democrats was a measure used as a proxy for a more liberal environment.
The research focused only on the state of Oregon and created a social index to assess which outside factors might contribute to suicidal tendencies. Other teen health experts called it a powerful, novel way to evaluate a tragic social problem.
“Is it surprising? No. Is it important? Yes,” said Dr. Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study “takes our relatively superficial knowledge and provides a bit more depth. Clearly, we need lots more understanding, but this is very much a step in the right direction,” he said.
Blum serves on an Institute of Medicine committee that recently released a report urging more research on gay health issues. Blum said the new study is the kind of research the institute believes has been lacking. The independent group advises the government on health matters.
The new study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Previous research has found disproportionately high suicide rates in gay teens. One highly publicized case involved a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off a bridge last year after classmates recorded and broadcast the 18-year-old having sex with a man.
The study relied on teens’ self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.
The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.
Among straight teens, suicide attempts were 9 percent more common in low-scoring counties. There were 1,584 total suicide attempts – 304 of those among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Hatzenbuehler said the results show that “environments that are good for gay youth are also healthy for heterosexual youth.”
The study is based on 2006-08 surveys of 11th-graders that state health officials conducted in Oregon classrooms; Oregon voter registration statistics; Census data on same-sex couples; and public school policies on gays and bullying.
The researchers assessed proportions of Democrats versus Republicans; there were relatively few Independents. Information on non-voters wasn’t examined.
Zachary Toomay, a high school senior from Arroyo Grande, California, said the study “seems not only plausible, but it’s true.”
The star swimmer, 18, lives in a conservative, mostly Republican county. He’s active in his school’s gay-straight alliance, and said he’d never been depressed until last year when classmates “ostracized” him for being vocal about gay rights.
Toomay said signs of community intolerance, including bumper stickers opposing same-sex marriage, also made him feel down, and he sought guidance from a school counselor after contemplating suicide.
Funding for the study came from the National Institutes for Health and a center for gay research at the Fenway Institute, an independent Harvard-affiliated health care and research center.
Michael Resnick, a professor of adolescent mental health at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, said the study “certainly affirms what we’ve come to understand about children and youth in general.
“They are both subtly and profoundly affected by what goes around them,” he said, including the social climate and perceived support.
From the Associated Press