Having children is not the antidote to depression: looking at the suicides of Robin Williams and others we loved


Like so many other people, I can’t stop thinking about Robin Williams, the beloved actor and comedian who committed suicide on Monday. Like so many other people, I felt a bond with him, loved him like family. We were about the same age, both performers, and both from the San Francisco Bay Area. Beyond that, did we have anything in common? Maybe not. But now I do share something with his family: suicide. Many years ago, my great-grandfather killed himself with a shotgun. More recently, my uncle hung himself in his garage. Robin’s death by hanging brings it all back to me. Why couldn’t these men go on?
They all had wives and children who loved them. They had good homes and enough money. They had work and hobbies they loved. It would seem they had so many reasons to live. So, what happened? What demons overpowered them and made them take their own lives?
These men left children and grandchildren to pick up the pieces, not just to do the practical things like arranging funerals and sorting their possessions but to remember and share their memories forever. If they can’t go on, how can we, who may never have children or grandchildren?
We can. We must. I have dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my life. I have been in counseling for years. For most of that time, I resisted taking any kind of medication for it. No, I don’t need drugs, I said. After my uncle died, I changed my mind. Give me the drugs. I do not want to follow in his footsteps. I take a small dose of a mild drug, but it helps.  
You know what? It makes no difference whether or not I have children. Depression is an illness, and it can come to anybody. And you know what’s more important? My life is not just about the children I had or didn’t have. There’s so much more to life. I am a complete person all by myself, and I have been given many gifts that God wants me to use in this life. I hope to use them until I die a natural death and maybe beat my grandfather’s record of living to age 98.
Many people who comment at this blog worry about how they will feel later if they don’t have children. Will they regret it? Will they be overwhelmed by grief that never goes away? Will their lives not be worth living? I have to tell you the hardest part is when you’re still trying to figure out what to do. Have children or not? Stay with this partner or not? Once it’s a done deal, it gets so much easier. There are moments of regret and sadness. It’s a loss, just like when someone dies. You will always wonder “what if?” I’m not going to pretend that I don’t wonder who will pick up the pieces when I die. But even if you never have kids, you will still have a life worth living, one full of gifts and possibilities. You will also have freedom to do things you might not have been able to do if you had children.
If you can’t imagine life without children, find a way to have them. Change partners, do IVF, adopt, volunteer. But if you are certain you have found your one true love, and that love will not give you children, accept that this is your life. Whatever happens, live the life you’re given, and for God’s sake, don’t give up. I know from personal experience that the hardest thing in the world is to reach out when the despair is so heavy all you want to do is disappear. But do reach out. Call a friend. Send an email. Tell someone how you feel. Grab a lifeline that will get you through today and into tomorrow when it will be easier. And if someone you love seems to be struggling, don’t wait to be asked; reach out to them.
We will get through this together. RIP, Robin, Uncle Don and Grandpa Joe.
Have you had a connection with suicide? What qualities give your life value in spite of not having children? Please share in the comments. 
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8 thoughts on “Having children is not the antidote to depression: looking at the suicides of Robin Williams and others we loved

  1. Hi Sue, very heartfelt blog today, thank you for your sharing your struggle with depression. I, too, have struggled with depression and really can relate to feeling as though ending my life is the only way out of the pain.

    I agree with you that having children is not the antidote to depression although I used to wonder if having a child would give me more of a reason to live. I had a counselor that very clearly told me that having a child would not cure my mental health issues.

    I am just about six weeks on the other side of knowing I am not going to have a child with my husband and again must agree with you, it is easier now that I have made the final decision. I am working on focusing on what I have to look forward to instead of focusing on what I am missing. It has taken me years to get to this point.

    Robin Williams death is so sad and so shocking, I only hope it will help people get a greater understanding of the disease of depression.

    I am sorry for the losses of your family members.

    As always, thank you for continuing your blog. Although I am currently in a hopeful phase I know those moments of grief will come again and only someone childless by circumstance can understand.

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  2. Hi Sue,
    Thanks for your post. When I was 34, after years of depression I hit rock bottom and made all kinds of plans to end my life. Whilst in the care of a Psychiatrist and a Mental Health team who used to call me each day to check I was still alive, my heart told me that having a baby would save my life, because if I couldn't keep living for me, I would certainly keep living for a much wanted child. 8 years down the line and I never managed to have a baby (or find the right partner). Over the last couple of months I have been told by a gynaecologist that it is almost certain that it's unlikely I can get pregnant, even with IVF. I had thought I was coming to terms with a future without children, but this knowledge has bought me back to a very low place again, and right now I am searching for hope and reasons to hang on to life. It's lonely, but I feel I am now fighting to live with the depression rather than living in the unrealistic hope that I will be a mum, and that being a mum is all my life is worth. Hope this makes sense, thanks again for your hopeful post. Cb.

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  3. Oh CB, I'm sorry it's been so hard for you. You know it's true that even if you had a child, you'd still have depression. I hope you're still getting help for it and that you can find reasons to keep going, even if it's something as simple as something delicious to eat. You're in my prayers.

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  4. Hi Sue…

    I'm new to your blog… but God bless you for it. My family has endured a few suicides… most closely to me was my grandfather… also by shot gun. I am currently at a very low place in my life. And have been having thoughts that I wish it would all just be over. Like can I hit the refresh button now? I know I would never consider suicide as I just could not hurt my husband and mother like that. A double loss for my mother would be too horrible. But I do wonder how to go on right now. Feeling lost without the possibility of a child (my husband is simply not interested and I just turned 40). Anyways… with the help of blogs like yours and forums for the childless I'm hoping to find my way thru the pain. The pit in my stomach is very intense right now. I've never suffered thru depression before so this is all new to me.

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  5. Hi Anonymous, If my blog can help in any way, I'm glad. It's tough. I know. Depression is all too familiar for me, but that doesn't make it any easier. There are so many things people say to do, but it doesn't help until you're ready to move out of the swamp. I suggest just to enjoy the little pleasures of life. Good food, a hug, Christmas lights, etc. Don't worry about the distant future. Just enjoy today. It will get easier. The clouds will lift, I promise. And if they don't do it on their own, please seek help.It works.

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  6. Dear Sue, I know this is an old post but I have just googled it. My uncle hung himself as well (and his son made several attempts) and my first boyfriend also committed suicide. Sometimes I think of them telling myself that this is not the way I want to end my life. Some time ago I struggled with depression and it is one of the reasons my husband doesn’t want to have a baby – he thinks I am too fragile. It hurts and I haven’t come to a decision yet – to stay or to leave. Anyway thank you for your blog – it helps me when I feel down!

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    • Thank you for this comment, Alena. Suicide is so frightening. I’m sorry for your losses. I struggle with depression, too, but I don’t think it would keep me from having children if I had the opportunity. Hang in there.

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