Local News

Triangle calls for mental illness help increase after Williams' death

Posted August 13, 2014 6:22 p.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2014 6:49 p.m. EDT

— Gloria Harrison understands what it’s like to consider taking one’s life – and not just because she’s a mental health professional.

“I have attempted suicide twice in my life,” said Harrison, who added that several of her family members have also attempted suicide. “Once when I was very young. When I was 10.”

Harrison, the help-line manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in North Carolina (NAMI-NC), has seen a significant increase in calls since comedian Robin Williams’ suicide on Monday. Most calls are from concerned family members.

Those who judge Williams for taking his own life, shouldn’t, Harrison said.

“He held on for a long time,” she said. “He was in the highest risk pool for suicide.”

The national suicide rate for men ages 35-64 increased 27 percent between 1999 and 2010, according to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The greatest increase was among ages 50-59, the report said.

Whites had the second-highest suicide rate increase among racial groups. For white men, the rate increased 59.5 percent, according to the report.

“The results underscore the importance of prevention strategies that address the needs of persons aged 35–64 years, which includes the baby boomer cohort,” the report said. “Prevention efforts are particularly important for this cohort because of its size, history of elevated suicide rates, and movement toward older adulthood, the period of life that has traditionally been associated with the highest suicide rates.”

Williams was 63.

“In no way do I think he was cowardly,” Harrison said. “I think he was a pretty strong person.”

Harrison said her depression never goes away. Suicidal thoughts are always in the back of her mind, which is why Harrison has a deep understanding of those she helps.

“I have a sister with schizophrenia, a daughter with bipolar and my mother also had bipolar and I have clinical depression,” she said.

Harrison is far from alone. Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, an affiliate of NAMI-NC, helped 1.7 million people in Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties through its help-line last year.

What has helped Harrison, she said, is helping others like her.

“Mental illness is real,” she said. “It's a neurobiological brain disorder. It's truly an illness.”