GREAT BARRINGTON — The death of the irreplaceable Robin Williams has many of us considering why people take their own lives. I’ve been asking some people on the radio about the subject, but I find their answers elusive.

Many who are suffering from deep depression want a way out. We now know that in many cases, a chemical imbalance is responsible for depression. In other cases, there may well be a genetic component — we know that people with family members who have committed suicide are statistically more likely to take their own lives.

Mental health professionals often ask their clients whether they have thoughts about suicide. That’s a tough one. There’s a big difference between thinking conceptually about suicide and actually considering acting on those thoughts.

In some cases, angry people will turn their aggression against themselves. I had a friend who took his own life years ago. He was an alcoholic. He had failed at many jobs and yet he was a true genius. He could do anything he set his mind to. He was an artist and a guy who could make the most difficult things work. He got into top high schools and colleges and found many jobs which turned out “not to suit.”

Ultimately, they found him face down in a swimming pool. He had a rather twisted view of life that led him to con his family out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I still think of him all the time. While we had lost touch over the years, we had been very close. I keep thinking that if he had called me, I might have been able to talk him out of doing this awful thing.

Suicide, of course, is often a thing of the moment. If the pain is so great at a given time, an individual might attempt to quell the pain in what seems like the only way he or she can. An hour later, they might not have done it. It is not hard for me to get what happened in the case of my friend, but it is very difficult to understand Robin Williams. He was brilliant and brought so much happiness to all of us. It’s hard to believe he didn’t know how much pain his death would cause all of those who loved him, particularly his children.

If my understanding of Sigmund Freud is correct, it was a cardinal principal of that great man that life was and is a competition between the fear of death (Thanatos) and the love of life, including sex (Eros). I get that. That’s where family comes in. If you have experienced the love of wife and children, if you have seen the smiling face of a grandchild, if you have friends who love you, if you have those people to live for, I have to believe that you are more likely to keep on living than you would be if you were out there all alone.

There are new classes of medication that offer hope to a great many people. These anti-depressants deal with the chemical imbalances that we know plague so many people. Ken Burns’ new “Roosevelt” series on PBS points out that many members of that family suffered from depression. In some cases, the consequences were predictable. Thankfully, FDR and his wife found ways to compensate.

Middle-aged men now comprise the No. 1 group most likely to commit suicide. It used to be the elderly.

Many people that I respect believe that ending one’s life can be appropriate — those whose bodies fail them, whose spouses have died or who have contracted a debilitating disease like Alzheimer’s. I guess the jury is out for me on that, although my inner feelings are that we are all human and we have to protect each other. It’s a complex thing and I wish I could understand it better.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/20/14