America has lost two incredible people in the same week to suicide. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were, as far as I know completely unrelated and uninfluenced by each other.
The designer, wife, and mother
Kate Spade, known for her coveted handbag, bright, peppy colors, and cheerful designs would seem on the surface the last person you’d think would be suicidal. Well, as a public figure anyway. Someone who’s design viewpoint is so spirited and happy…they must be that way themselves, no? That’s why much of the general public and consumers of her brand are at a loss trying to marry their image of her as the designer with the actual person behind the brand who struggled so deeply with anxiety and depression.
Spade hung herself by a scarf (of course – fashionable to the very end) after a long, mostly secret battle from depression as well as bipolar disorder according to her sister, that went untreated due to fears of how it would affect the brand. Details of a suicide note to her 13-year old daughter also indicate that the separation from her husband leading to a possible divorce contributed to potential feelings of loss of hope and devastation.
Her estranged husband was reportedly fuming over the fact that part or all of the message within the suicide note was leaked to the media before it was even shared with him or the family.
The traveler, foodie, writer, and father
And just days later, Anthony Bourdain did the same thing in his Paris hotel room while there to shoot the latest episode for his CNN “Parts Unknown” series. While Bourdain wasn’t a peppy, spirited, happy-go-lucky guy, this news surprises his fans just as much as the death of Kate Spade. Bourdain was a world traveler who seemed to have good friends all over the world. He seemed like one of the very few people in the world who had genuinely found his niche in life…his calling…and was at ease with who he was in life. He seemed unfazed by most stressors in life, at least on the surface.
He was divorced in 2016 amicably, reportedly due to the constant separation…which makes sense considering how much he was on the road traveling. While surely this was devastating to his ex-wife, Ottavia Busia, the pain must also be devastatingly felt by the 11-year old daughter he leaves behind.
As much as we think we know these people, we don’t. We only know the surface public persona that is portrayed for their brand or in front of the camera. We’re not there with them in person. We’re not close friends with them, sharing each other’s concerns and feelings. So much of their real experiences and struggles are hidden from us.
So while it may be shocking at first, it’s kind of silly, if you think about it, to say it was unexpected from the public audience viewpoint. I didn’t see it coming from Kate Spade because her designs were so vibrant and happy, and she was always charming in front of the camera. I didn’t see it coming from Anthony Bourdain because he always seemed to laid back, sure of himself and at ease in front of the cameras.
When we reframe it like that, we realize we don’t know the real people, and shouldn’t be commenting on how we didn’t see it coming…just how much of a tragedy it is. The world lost two wonderful human beings, and those are just the public figures. Surely there were others who committed suicide this week who were not famous, but the world lost them nonetheless.
Many of the news pages are putting a trite message at the end of their articles instructing readers to call 1-800 numbers if they are considering suicide. As someone with very personal experience with this issue, that suggestion might make the writers feel helpful, but in reality is probably the last thing a truly suicidal person would choose to do before attempting suicide. These writers are missing some key sources that would better help struggling people, before or often instead of a crisis number.
When someone is struggling with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, having a lack of value, feeling like they don’t belong, extreme mental anguish, they need someone in their lives to talk to. They need to feel needed, cared for, loved by someone they already have a connection with. This bond will give them hope. If they see that this person cares, this person listens, this person is trying to help them, it will make such a difference in how they see themselves and how they see the problem.
They need to feel a connection with someone in their lives, to see that someone cares. A 1-800 number should give that only in the absence of other real connections or in cases where the individual feels they can’t go to the people around them. And while calling that 1-800 number might stop them from acting in that single instance, they will not solve the problem. Reaching out to a loved one, getting a support system aware of your needs, and getting professional help that is consistent…those things will help to solve the problem.
This message was posted by CNN, the network in which Anthony Bourdain worked with for his series. I’m almost certain they know he wouldn’t be calling a crisis hotline. The problem is almost always seen as more complex than a single chat with a stranger could solve no matter how well they are trained.
Stop with the platitudes. Keep it genuine.
Placing myself in that person’s shoes…I wouldn’t want a stranger talking me through it when I’m feeling my lowest. I would want someone who would be involved in my life, who cares about me personally, and could follow up to check on and support me. Someone I could go get coffee with and have a candid conversation with.
People trying to understand suicide and mental health issues may think calling a crisis number or getting the police involved will solve the issue, and after the call is made, they’ve done their job and all is well. But from there, truly suicidal people are often run through a series of traumatic events that do not solve the problem that has brought them to this point, but make them go into a coping stance, saying anything their “captors” want to hear, feeling certain they are not going to self-identify again.
It will uncomfortably put a temporary band-aid on the problem for a day, perhaps a week. Self-identifying to an ER or law enforcement can often lead the individual to be placed in a situation where they are treated more like a criminal rather than someone getting help. They are locked down in sterile, jail-like environments, often as soon as they step foot in the ER. They loose access to their clothes and their personal belongings. They are separated from their loved ones with no access to them with the exception of designated “phone time”. It sounds less like help and more like prison.
And that just ensures that next time, they will be less likely to go that route if it didn’t help to actually solve the root of the problem, not the outcome/desired actions from that problem. Until this system is actually helpful and accommodating to people struggling, truly suicidal people are going to stay away from it.
If you have thoughts of suicide, reach out to friends and loved ones, and just talk. This is your strongest support network. Tell them what you’re struggling with. Tell them you’re worried about your mental health and you need support right now – you need a listening ear and you need someone to know what you’re going through so you don’t feel so alone anymore. And don’t stop there – then go get professional psychiatric care counseling. You could have underlying mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed, and a psychiatrist can help to diagnose and provide treatment that helps you with any conditions contributing to your feelings of depression or anxiety, and possibly put you on regulating medications if needed.
There are also great talk therapy counselors out there. Once you find a good counselor, that relationship in itself can be vital to the improvement of your ability to cope with the issues going on in your life. Plus they can give great advice as to how to solve issues that you may have been overlooking. Know and remind yourself that you are not alone, especially in the dark moments. These people are here with you, and just a phone call or coffee run away.
If you don’t have anyone available, then you make that 1-800 call: 1-800-273-8255, US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. And join a YMCA, local church, veterans organization, volunteer organization, bingo hall, SOMETHING. Build relationships, make ties, and find fulfillment in finding like-minded people.
It’s not about suicide, but I found this TED talk fascinating regarding longevity and personal relationships. And really, it ties in well with this issue. Build those personal relationships. Rely on them. Divulge to those you trust when you need to. And if you don’t trust, build trust, seeking counseling in the meantime.