We’re still reeling from the shocking news that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. Fact of the matter is: no one is safe from depression. But, we can save people from suicide.
However, we first need to change the conversation about both topics.
We woke up to the news about Anthony Bourdain’s tragic passing with CNN confirming he committed suicide. Earlier this week, famous designer Kate Spade also killed herself.
Obviously, we look on social media and see people joking about something in the water or, worse, calling Spade and Bourdain cowards.
They’re most definitely NOT cowards. Suicide is a direct result of mental health issues, like death is for cancer patients. Those two people lost their battle with depression this week.
We need to understand as a society that depression doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, wealth, or well-being.
What people don’t understand is, depression is an illness. Think of it like a parasite that slowly rewrites your brain and rewires how you think, act, and feel. Which, by all means, is alarming enough.
However, the most alarming thing is that we still refuse to see mental health issues as anything but a sign of weakness.
The human brain controls the body and, like any body part, it sometimes gets sick. And when something happens to the brain, it affects the entire body. Like a traumatic brain injury or tumor, depression can also leave a broad and devastating consequence.
Unfortunately, unlike a TBI, we still don’t know what causes depression. But, we do have theories.
Sure, certain events and social situations do bring on bouts of depression, like a traumatic incident or a loss of a loved one. A person may also have a family history of it, too.
But, sometimes it comes out of nowhere. Sometimes, it attacks the happiest and strongest person you know and because they’re happy and strong, you don’t suspect that anything’s wrong with them until it’s too late.
Sometimes, depression is a direct result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, which is what antidepressants treat. But even then, antidepressants only help a person function, they don’t “cure” it.
But, above anything else, no one knows what triggers or even causes depression. All we do know is that it’s dangerous and we need to change the way we act about it.
Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and even Robin Williams show us that anyone can struggle with it.
Depression isn’t “feeling sorry for yourself” or “asking for attention.” Instead, our society equates mental illness with weakness or an extremely poor personal choice. That’s why those who suffer from this disease opt to suffer in private. It’s because they also buy into the narrative, so they don’t want to appear weak or draw attention to themselves that they feel they don’t deserve.
What’s worse is that our society goes further: flippantly saying that those suffering with mental health issues are an an embarrassment who can’t get their act together.
So, that’s why those with mental health issues go as far as to pretend absolutely nothing is wrong. It’s because they don’t want to worry anyone or be accused of whining.
Others do it out of shame. And, a handful of those with depression choose to battle it quietly because they believe they’ll overcome it, believing it’s just a phase.
But, even if a person does speak up that they need help and find that needed love and support, it still might not be enough.
That’s what’s so shocking about suicide. This mental affliction convinces people to kill themselves by making it appear as a perfectly logical next step. Like, it convinces them that they’re being “pragmatic” about it and that they’re doing “a good thing.”
It starts slowly at first, like just a passing thought. But, then it intensifies and increases until it becomes an idealization.
And, honestly, that’s terrifying.
The epitome of human nature is to survive. Our entire being is wired around keeping alive no matter the cost.
We panic when we start to choke, fall, or wind up staring down a dangerous creature in the woods. It’s because our gut instinct is to keep living, so we dislodge what’s in our throat, cling onto something to keep us upright, or engage in our fight or flight response.
In some cases, people are willing to kill to live another day. Sometimes on purpose, but other times, out of instinct – like a drowning victim climbing on top of another person to stay afloat.
Yet, depression seemingly disables that drive to keep living.
Chris Cornell had all the money, fame, love, and attention a human could possibly want. So, when he killed himself, no one except those who walked in his shoes understood why he left his family behind.
Same goes with Anthony Bourdain.
That’s why I personally believe that those who suffer from depression aren’t weak, In fact, they’re probably some of the strongest people out there because they were thrown into a battle they never asked to be in, yet they fight every day.
The issue is, depression is always there 24/7. Some days it’s quiet and doesn’t distract you from your daily activities. Also known as “a good day.” Sometimes, a person may even go as far in believing that they’re cured – that they “beat” it.
But, some days it’s unforgiving as it is cacophonous. Your brain turns against you, weaving lies that you’re a burden to everyone you love, that your friends tolerate you or are nice to you out of pity, and that you’re an imposter in your own life. By imposter, I mean, that depression will convince you that you’re a phony and that someone far more deserving should be enjoying your life.
“Oh, I’d never believe that,” you probably say to yourself, and mostly you’re right. But only if those thoughts were actually said to you every day by an actual person, like online trolls or your worst enemy. That’s easier to shrug off because you rationalize that something is wrong with them for saying such cruel things.
But when it’s your own mind conjuring up those bitter words? That’s a whole different battle.
You basically fight yourself every day, as if you’re split down the middle. That’s what makes this disease so exhausting. You aren’t physically fighting another person and slowly wearing them down. You’re fighting something intangible that demands rematch after rematch.
Your mind fills to the brim with these intrusive thoughts that find the fissures and cracks in your armor until it wears you down. Your brain seeks “proof” of these assumptions and latches onto every ounce of evidence that proves that you need to isolate yourself from your family and friends because you’re so disgusting and deserved to be punished.
Even the smallest mistake becomes evidence that you’re incompetent.
You eventually start seeing yourself as “stupid” or “a pathetic loser.” You lose sight of yourself when it gets this bad. You also don’t give in because it “feels good” or that you want to “give up.” You unknowingly give in once you become convinced that you are all those dreadful things.
Eventually, when you have those “good days,” you know they won’t last. It’ll all come crashing down in a moment, just give it time. It’s because you’ve been trained to expect that, or you become too afraid to express optimism because you’re tired of being let down or proven wrong.
And, honestly, that’s terrifying to think that some people see a “better day” as a cruel trick. Good days become scarcer as your life overflows with this haunting feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and lethargy.
Thankfully, not everyone understands what it’s like to be in that dark tunnel without a flashlight. While it’s nice to know there’s people out there who will never experience depression in their lifetime, it also means they don’t truly understand what depression is. Which, obviously, winds up with people who never suffered with it to create its narrative.
“Well, I’ve had real reasons to be sad but I got over it, they can, too!”
But, depression isn’t a passing sad thought or a temporary dark cloud over your head. It’s an unrelenting tornado that sucks away all your joy and strength. You slowly lose interest in the things you once loved. Then, your energy declines. In some cases, depression drains you of all emotions, so you feel empty all the time.
And, even when that happens, it still beats you down until it invades every inch of your life. By then, you idealize an escape. You come to see your death as the natural and logical next step.
You sincerely believe that everyone you know will simply move on and forget you once you’re gone. Sure, you reason that they’ll be sad at first, but depression convinces you that they’ll be relieved that you’re no longer around. You free them by freeing yourself.
“So, if you feel that way, why not seek help? There’s hotlines and psychiatrists!”
Well, it all circles back to how we treat mental health. Our society barely tolerates mental health issues. Let alone discussing them in the open.
We say “pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself, there’s starving children in Africa who have it worse than you!”
Or society says, “have you tried NOT feeling sad?”
Some people with depression don’t want to “out” themselves. They might actually be ashamed and buy into the narrative that only the weak or those seeking attention ask for help.
That’s probably why Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade concealed their mental battles. They didn’t want to worry their fans. That, and, receive the onslaught of comments shaming them for having those issues while they live a fabulous wealthy and famous life. The whole “you live a way better life than me, how on earth are you sad?”
Depression, just like cancer, can happen to anyone. However, while we organize rallies, marches, and months of charity work for cancer patients… we really don’t do the same for mental illness.
We need to create an atmosphere where people can come forward about their struggles and not feel shame. We need to stop judging those who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental afflictions.
And, above all else, we need to stop calling people who commit suicide “cowards.”
Although the loss of Anthony Bourdain is immense, some good can come from his death. We can change the narrative about suicide and depression. We can be more understanding and kind to each other because, as of now, more and more people are now committing suicide.
The CDC found that between 1996 and 2016, suicide rates in the U.S. climbed 25 percent. This now means that suicide is, officially, a top 10 cause of death in America.
And what’s so frustrating about that is it is preventable.
We need to stop equating depression with weakness and a source of shame. Instead, we need to see those suffering from this affliction as we see cancer patients, warriors who fight to live every day… because that’s literally what they’re doing.
That said, if you suffer from depression and are considering taking your life, there is hope and there is help. Even if your mind tells you there isn’t, I want you to know it’s not true. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Calling will not “out” you. It’s confidential and the person on the other end of the line, albeit a stranger, does care about you and won’t think you’re “weak” or “stupid.”
And, if you don’t want to talk for your own personal reasons, there is a number you can text. It’s the Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to 741741.
You are loved. You are needed. And you are not alone.