Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

Raeesa Ashique - 4A Electrical
Posted on: June 17, 2018

This month, the world lost two talented and influential icons to suicide. Both were successful in their careers, proving once again that we can never know the details of another person’s life.

Kate Spade, designer and fashion icon, age 55, took her life on Tuesday, June 5 at her Manhattan apartment. (You can read about her life on page 5.)

Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and author, age 61, took his life on Friday, June 8 at his hotel in Eastern France, where he was filming a segment for his show “Parts Unknown”, which airs on CNN.

Bourdain’s rise to fame began in 1999 with an article in the New Yorker titled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This”, which exposed dark secrets of the food industry, publishing his bestselling novel Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly a year later. Since then, he has hosted various shows. “Parts Unknown” is in its eleventh season; he travels all over the world, living adventures and showing how food brings people together. Bourdain is also an ally of the #MeToo campaign.

He said, “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.”

CNN said in a statement: “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”

Rising Suicide Rates

According to a 2016 study for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates in the US have increased by 30% since 1999. In 2016, 45,000 Americans committed suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the US.

Rates have fluctuated over time, tending to rise during difficult times, which indicates that this phenomenon is not unusual. For example, there were 17.4 deaths per 100,000 in 1932, during the Great Depression. This is similar to last year, with 13.7 per 100,000.

The frightening part is that rates have not improved nearly one hundred years later.

With research into HIV and heart disease, death rates due to these diseases are decreasing. Theoretically, the same trend is also possible with suicide. It is estimated that over 90% of suicide victims have a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Suicide does not have to be the outcome.

These two deaths in particular were met with public shock, because both were so successful, proving that mental illness does not discriminate. Dr. John Draper, director of US National Suicide Prevention services, said, “In some ways a highly successful person can even feel trapped because everything seems perfect – they think no one will understand or believe that they have a problem.”

Doreen Marshall, VP of Programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, agreed: “The impact feels much closer when it’s someone in the public eye because we feel we know them and we make assumptions about their life.”

Concerns were raised by health experts regarding news coverage of these deaths. These days, journalists are becoming more cognisant of responsibly reporting on suicide, including empathetic phrasing and withholding gory details. Publishing details of the suicide method can be a triggering mechanism for those at risk.

Madelyn Gould, profession of epidemiology in child psychiatry at Columbia University, said, “When I heard about Bourdain, I was sad for him and for all the people who were going to hear about it, and I am also sad for people who might be influenced by it.” She has studied “suicide contagion” for years, and says that research supports this phenomenon. “The deaths of two high-profile people by suicide…has much more impact than less well-known individuals.”

For example, when Robin Williams took his life in 2014, suicide rates increased by almost 10% – corresponding to 2000 additional deaths – according to a study published in PLOS One. After Marilyn Monroe’s suicide in 1962, rates increased by 12%, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, Draper believes that in the aftermath, celebrities can contribute to a “positive contagion” by normalizing dialogue around mental health.

Survivors took to social media after these suicides, leading to an outpouring of support. People told their own stories of coming back from the edge, which reflected a common theme: gestures, small or large, were often enough to change their minds. Acts of kindness from a friend or stranger. Hearing that they are valued, and to hold on.

The little things matter.

There are no comments yet, add one below.

Leave a Comment