The day after beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams committed suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline received more than 7,500 calls, twice as many as usual. Mental health treatment centers all round the country reported a similar jump in calls.
Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. In 2010, an American took his or her own life every 13.7 minutes. Statistics show that half the U.S. population will experience some mental difficulty during their lives, and yet there’s been a reluctance to address mental health issues in ways that actually help the people who are afflicted, according to Dr. Delaney Ruston, a Seattle-based internal medicine physician, who has advocated for more than a decade for those struggling with mental illness.
Ruston has taught in the University of Washington's Department of Medicine and worked as a primary care physician at the Pike Market Clinic and other clinics for Seattle's underserved populations. She has received numerous honors for her mental health advocacy work. This past spring, she helped lobby for a groundbreaking new state law that requires all primary health care providers to get training on suicide prevention and intervention.
To address the silence on the issue, Dr. Ruston also produced (wrote, directed and partially shot) two award-winning, full-length documentaries on this ignored aspect of human health. The first, Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia, recounts her father’s struggle with schizophrenia and eventual suicide. (He leapt from a pier in Los Angeles.) Hidden Pictures explores how most global health resources are devoted to physical health and illnesses. This despite the fact that, according to the World Health Organization, about 450 million people around the world live with mental illness, and almost one million of them a year commit suicide. (Most of those suicides occur in low and middle income nations where as many as 85 percent of the people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment.)