I am blessed and lucky to have a religious leader such as Rabbi Bruce Aft that is so in tune with the issue of bullying and the long-term effects, that we talk frequently about it. He is not only a mentor to me, but a trusted friend and he shared recently his thoughts on Robin Williams suicide and depression in an article to his congregation. I asked him if I could share his thoughts here, as I think them relevant to the whole view of the long-term effects of bullying. Of course, he said yes. So I hope you get as much from his thoughts below as I do. ~Alan Eisenberg
As I contemplate how to respond to the suicide of Robin Williams, I want to share a personal discussion which my wife and I had after we watched the movie Dead Poets Society many years ago. (I think the movie actually was released 25 years ago).
I hope that all of you will watch this movie and perhaps we can have an evening where we discuss it. In case you haven’t seen it, I will briefly share the subject of our discussion while trying not to give away the ending of the movie.
As I recall the movie, Robin Williams is a teacher who spends a lot of time encouraging one of his students to pursue his dreams. The student has a difficult relationship with his father as he and his father have different views on what the student should be doing.
As things evolve, the student relies on Robin Williams for guidance and inspiration. Our personal discussion revolved around the issue of how much a teacher is required to do in order to help a student. We disagreed (and probably still disagree) about the limits of our abilities to help. One of our positions was that the teacher had done all he could to help and that at some point there is a limit to what we can do to provide support to someone. The other position was that the teacher could have done more to help. I hope you see this movie and sometime in the fall, we can discuss this with those who have seen the movie so that we can be more specific. Stay tuned for details!
As we deal with depression in our society, how much are we expected to reach out to those who are depressed? As many of you know, one of my favorite parts of the rabbinate is teaching teenagers. As I watch the faces of the students, I often wonder what they are thinking and what struggles they are facing. I try my hardest to reach out to them if I suspect that they are facing a challenge and try to provide support. However, I am sure there are times when I just don’t pick up on cues and have not effectively helped them. How does one decide when one has done enough to help someone? And this is not just an issue which teenagers face as we have seen people of all ages can be fighting depression.
I hope that each of us will try to be more sensitive to the behavior of others and if we suspect that someone is dealing with depression, that we don’t just walk away or minimize it. I have heard individuals tell others who are dealing with depression that they should “just deal with it” or “snap out of it.” “It” is not just that easy to wish away. “It” is a very real illness and if we are honest, many people we know, and even some of us, are dealing with it.
Please know that if you are feeling depressed or know of someone who is, that you should not just let it go. In the same way you would treat heart disease or cancer or other physical illnesses, we need to be vigilant in recognizing and treating depression. There are people who can help you deal with powerful feelings that can seem overwhelming.
Some of us feel that if we acknowledge that we are depressed, we will be stigmatized and others will think less of us. Please try NOT to feel this way. SEEK help and don’t hesitate to contact me or another helping professional.
We are taught in Mishnah Sanhedrin, one of our sacred rabbinic teachings, that if one saves one life, one saves an entire world. Please do whatever it takes to seek or provide help for those in need (including ourselves) and recognize that a true community of friends reaches out and supports others in all kinds of situations.
~Rabbi Bruce D. Aft