By Daniel Larios
August 13, 2014 – Those looking for answers after comedian Robin Williams took his life Monday during a bout with severe depression might find some understanding on a website launched 15 years ago in Santa Monica.
Helpguide, which was started by Robert and Jeanne Segal three years after their 29-year-old daughter Morgan committed suicide in 1996 after battling major depression, received more than 65 million visits last year.
“Helpguide was inspired by our belief that Morgan’s tragedy could have been avoided if she had access to unbiased, reliable information that gave her a sense of hope and direction,” said Robert Segal, who founded the real estate firm Segal Enterprises.
“Since then, this website has grown from a small local project to one of the world’s largest, most highly regarded mental health websites,” Segal said.
Part of a collaborative effort with Harvard Health, a publication associated with Harvard Medical School, Helpguide offers detailed articles for those suffering from mental illness and their friends and family members.
“I just stopped my friend from committing suicide this morning and got her the help she needs, and I couldn't have done that without your page on what to say to a severely suicidal person,” a reader from Pennsylvania wrote to the site.
“Thank you so much. You're saving lives and making the world a better place.”
Helpguide has received so much popular support that the Ulster County Department of Health and Mental Health in New York is using the information gathered on its pages in its own suicide prevention smartphone app.
The site also provides solace for the loved ones left behind. “Remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible,” reads an entry on the site states. “Your future will become open to new experiences only to the extent that you embrace the past.”.
It is advice many fans of Robin Williams seem to have taken to heart. As news spread that 63-year-old comedian and Oscar-award- winning actor had taken his life, posts sharing favorite jokes, movies and stories about the late great funny man were shared on social media.
“When I was 18, I got a job as an intern at Comic Relief just to be near him,” said comedian and film director Judd Apatow. “A genius and a truly kind man who made the world a better place.”
Some helped spread awareness of suicide prevention and advised those who are suffering to seek help.
“I didn’t know I could be so sad, angry, stunned and grateful at the same time,” said comedian Jim Gaffigan. “RIP Robin Williams. If you are in pain, please seek help.”
In addition to the loss of a talented figure, the manner of Williams’ death -- he hanged himself in his Northern California home -- has brought the sensitive subject of suicide, as well as its prevention, front and center in the media.
Even the L.A.-based comedy morning radio program, the Kevin and Bean Show on KROQ, featured a serious segment Tuesday on depression, suicidal thoughts and ways to get help.
“In the darkest moments, the depression sort of convinced me in my head that my continued existence was harmful to my loved ones, that it was beneficial to them that I no longer be here,” said caller Paul Lee.
“You’re so full of self-loathing you think everyone hates you. I really believed my wife would be happier without me.”
“The one bit of advice I would give to people is that always remember that Depression lies to you,” the caller added. “Whatever you think or feel or believe about yourself, when you’re depressed, it’s a hundred percent a lie.
“As the ultimate act of fate, you have to believe in all the good things you used to believe about yourself, even at your darkest moments.”
The segment featured a number of other callers who recounted their stories, hoping to raise awareness among listeners.
“I hope this conversation will help anybody else out there who’s close to that point or may reach that point in the future,” said the show’s co-host Gene “Bean” Baxter. “Don’t believe what your brain is telling you and get help.”
In addition to Helpguide.org, there are a number of organizations who can help individuals with thoughts of suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or suicidepreventionlifeline.org, is designed to help those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, at (800) 950-NAMI or nami.org, is another suicide hotline especially helping those dealing with mental illness.
The Trevor Project, at (866) 488-7386 or thetrevorproject.org, provides crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. It is also affiliated with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The National Council for Suicide Prevention, at (800) SUICIDE (784-2433), is an umbrella organization for many different suicide prevention and crisis help organizations.
The Culver City based Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, at (877) 727-4747, provides suicide prevention services throughout Southern California.