Calls to the Maine suicide hotline jumped this week after news of Robin Williams’ death, with some suicidal callers mentioning the late actor by name.

To some, it’s almost felt like a personal loss, Michael Mitchell, clinical director at the Crisis & Counseling Centers in Augusta, said.

“Many people didn’t necessarily know he had been struggling with substance abuse and depression and so they see him as the Genie or the laughing comedian he was, that’s some of the stuff that they’re referencing, and the shock and disbelief,” Mitchell said Wednesday.

Williams died Monday in his California home after he hanged himself.

The concern for professionals such as Mitchell, who covers Kennebec and Somerset counties, is, “It can leave people confused and feeling overwhelmed. One of the things we talk about when somebody has a close experience with suicide is that it suddenly puts it on the menu in a way that it hadn’t been there before.”

If religious or moral grounds had kept someone from committing suicide before, it can make it that much more acceptable, Mitchell said.


“We had a similar situation with Kurt Cobain’s death 25 years ago,” he said. “For adolescent males, it was a particular trigger. He was seen as kind of the grunge guru. When those guys of the same mindset saw that somebody had died by that means, we saw people suddenly go into a very riskful place.”

His centers normally answer 150 to 200 calls a day. On Tuesday, that was up by as much as 20 percent, entirely related to Williams’ death.

Eleven contracted crisis centers answer the state’s suicide hotline calls. A statewide call count wasn’t available Wednesday, according to a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman.

Williams’ death did prompt the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to Tweet and Facebook warning signs of suicide — withdrawing from friends, feeling worthless, feeling hopeless — and highlight the hotline number, 1-888-568-1112.

Both Mitchell and Greg Marley, clinical director for the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, were concerned with the level of detail that had come out in the media after Williams’ suicide.

“The standard is that you report the essentials and you do it in a way that doesn’t do any glorification or any kind of detail that would allow for a how-to,” Mitchell said. “It’s really important to emphasize health, reaching out and hope and resiliency in the face of that as opposed to ‘this is a great way to die,’ which is sometimes how people will hear it.”


As for the uptick, Marley saw it as a positive that so many people were calling the hotlines to reach out.

“People who are vulnerable and need that extra support, need that voice, particularly if they are isolated,” he said. “That’s always one of the factors associated with suicidality is that sense of isolation.”

Mitchell’s centers are members of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. So many people were calling hotlines in other states that some of the overflow was being kicked his way.

“We got a lot of calls from people from New York yesterday,” Mitchell said. “Even as much despair and pain as someone is facing, there’s treatment, there’s hope, there’s reasons to persevere. The key to that is to talk to somebody.”

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: