DAVIDSON – Representatives from the resident-led support group Davidson LifeLine and the Davidson Behavior Health Center don’t want conversations about mental illness hidden.

In the wake of reports that celebrity Robin Williams took his life, a community information session, led by Lynn Hennighausen of Davidson LifeLine, was held Aug. 24 to offer residents a chance to share their feelings and concerns about the subject and learn ways they can get help for themselves or loved ones.

“Why not Robin Williams?” asked one attendee of the panel discussion entitled “Why Robin Williams?” “One thing to keep in mind is that Robin Williams was just as susceptible as anyone else.” 

According to information from Davidson LifeLine, in 2010, there were 38,364 suicides nationwide and 95 percent of those people had an underlying mental illness like depression. The group was established in 2012 to educate residents about suicide prevention through events like the recent discussion as well as the annual Gathering on the Green, scheduled for Oct. 11.

Among the panelists were Robert Martin, director of substance abuse services for Carolinas Medical Center Mercy, who spoke about the links between mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse; Dr. Tom Gettelman, vice president and faculty executive of the Davidson Behavioral Health Hospital; Emily Grimes, a clinical social worker and therapist from Cornelius; John Deem, who has openly shared his experiences with depression; and Ruby Houston, who works with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Community Relations and Outreach.

“All too often, people in my profession, community and church I find are still ignorant about what their options are,” Houston said. “They don’t know what is out there, but help is out there.”

Intermingled with discussions of what could have potentially led to Williams’ ongoing struggles were the stories of community members sharing personal stories, not only of grief but also of triumph. 

One of the biggest takeaways was that while Williams’ case ended in tragedy, both Gettelman and Martin reiterated that he was able to get help for many years.

“Treatments do work,” Gettelman said after several people shared how they have been able to get better and find some relief. “From the substance rehabilitation to the psychiatry, it did work and that enabled (Williams) to bring joy to so many people’s lives including my own. Don’t think it’s hopeless.”

The panelists advised attendees the importance of not being afraid to talk to a person who may need help. But also be cognizant that once people have truly decided to take their own life, it may not be able to be stopped, Grimes said, adding, “That’s the harsh reality.”

Davidson LifeLine offers a one-and-a-half-hour training course called Question, Persuade and Refer twice a month to teach people what to say.  There are also several area resources where people can go for help. For more information, go to the Davidson Lifeline page, through the Town of Davidson website.

If something does happen, area support groups include Healing and Understanding of Grief from Suicide and Living After Suicide, both in Huntersville. Grimes said for every person who takes their life, at least eight people are intimately affected.

“I’m as open as I can be about my own struggles to let people know, because you don’t know (if they are struggling),” Deem said. “The dilemma is people are not going to come forward because of the stigma. That’s not going to go away until people come out and talk about the issues.”