Most of us are literally reeling from the news last week of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths by suicide. Our hearts & condolences go out to their families & friends as we shake our heads wondering when these tragedies will stop and brace ourselves for whatever will come next. I would also guess that many of us are also wondering what happened that such individuals could take their lives. After all, on the surface they appeared to have everything we are socialized to want and dream about: fame, fortune, worldwide recognition and acclaim. It baffles many of us when such public figures, who appear to have it all, take such actions. Well, this is the mystery and difficulty with mental health difficulties. What one sees on the surface, the smile, productivity and creativity, may be very different from what lurks underneath.
As we attempt to wrap our minds around these events and make some sense of them, what we can learn from these and future events?
1. There are definite similarities across the human condition, but we are all distinct individuals with different motivations and goals. What appears to be an explanation for one person does not necessarily work as an explanation for another.
2. We believe that money and adoration will buy us happiness, but this is a myth of Western culture. It may work for some but does not work for many, and it is necessary to take stock and look inward to determine this for oneself. It is suggested that external accomplishments feed the heart and soul less than such things as friendship, gratitude and acts of love and kindness.
3. We wonder if something could have been done to prevent these events. In most cases I would like to think that is true. Most people exhibit ambivalence about such acts and shows signs, large or small, that they are in turmoil. However, even with such signs, because of the stigma & shame associated with mental health issues and substance abuse, people are often reluctant to reach out for help when they need it and to be clear about their desire for assistance.
4. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and the third leading cause of death among adults. As such, it is incumbent upon us as parents, relatives, friends and community members to be aware of signs and symptoms of mental illness, particularly depression and suicidal ideation and behavior, and, more importantly, reaching out to those who appear to be in need, directly asking them how they are doing and then, when appropriate, assisting them in getting help. Only by being aware of these warning signs and being comfortable enough to reach out when you think something may be going on, can we truly begin to help reduce mental health difficulties and suicide. For more information about the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal behavior, please visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or preventsuicidepa.org. You may also consider attending a mental health first aid or youth–mental health first aid training in your community; please visit mentalhealthfirstaid.org. For additional information about services available for children and families experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties please visit www.CGRC.org. And if you or a loved one are in need of immediate attention please call the national suicide prevention lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.