by James Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To open up an exploration of the causes of suicide with reference to Robin Williams.
Preparation and materials
- It is vital that this assembly is used with great awareness and sensitivity to any mental health issues your students or their families may be managing.
- Gather some images of famous people who have taken their own lives, including Robin Williams, and have the means to display them during the assembly (check copyright).
- The following websites are good sources of information and help:
- Have available the song ‘You got a friend’ by James Taylor or various other artists and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- 1he actor, comedian and entertainer Robin Williams died on 11 August 2014. He was 63 years old. It seems that he committed suicide and his death has led to a public discussion of the causes of suicide in the twenty-first century.
Show image or images of Robin Williams.
- Robin Williams was famous for his chaotic sense of humour and his manic routines. One of his most famous comic roles, as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin, was largely improvised – the character was animated to fit his own words rather than him reading from a script. Yet, he could be subtle and solemn, too. Another famous role was as an unconventional and inspiring teacher in Dead Poets' Society. He was an actor with great depth and versatility, as can be seen in Mrs Doubtfire – again, a film that has a serious moral message.
- His death came as a huge surprise to all. How could someone with such energy and skill take his own life?
Reports have emerged that he was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disease that attacks the nerves and the brain, eventually leading to severe movement problems. Parkinson's is incurable and is a grim prospect for a anyone, especially one who was so lively and energetic.
- Another explanation is that the drugs he was taking to combat Parkinson's enhanced his feelings of depression. It was reported that he was very depressed at the time that he died.
Many drugs have unusual and unexpected side effects and it is possible that the medication he was taking to battle the disease may have had depressive effects.
- There are many reasons for people taking their own lives, yet many are persuaded not to. Kevin Briggs is a Highway Patrol officer in San Francisco. His patrol takes him across the Golden Gate Bridge every day. Briggs has stopped hundreds of people from jumping off the bridge, earning him the nickname the Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.
When Briggs encounters someone in danger, he first asks them how they are doing, then what their plans are for tomorrow. If they don't have a plan, he suggests one for them. By talking to them, he shows people that they have a reason to live.
Show images of other famous people who have committed suicide.
- Yet suicide is still the biggest killer of men under 50. Many blame the masculine culture of not talking about one's problems for this. Following the death of Robin Williams, people are starting to question this culture and say that men need to talk about their feelings as much as women. By talking to others, people can recognize the value and beauty of their lives.
Time for reflection
How often do you say ‘I’m so depressed’ when actually you mean ‘I’m so fed up’?
Living with depressive illness is not the same as being fed up. It means living when even getting out of bed in the morning seems too hard, so you begin to wonder if there’s any point to life.
Do you know, or have friends, who are depressed? How can we help people suffering from this awful, often secret, illness?
Let’s begin today by recognizing depression as an illness and that people with depression need to be loved and cared for, encouraged to join in with life as much as they can and seek help from experts.
Let’s be aware of how the people we know and care about are mentally. If there are warning signs, perhaps you need to talk to them and encourage them to talk to someone who can help, such as a professional.
‘You got a friend’ by James Taylor or other artists