Who Do You Know?

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you... You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” — Anthony Bourdain

The death of Anthony Bourdain, on the heels of Kate Spade, has brought an alarming problem to the surface. The problem – suicide. According to the CDC some 45,000 people from the ages of 10 and up, committed suicide in 2016, and that number has increased every year, making it one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Consider this, if you will, since the death of Kate Spade some four days ago, the number of people who have taken their own lives - 360.

When a celebrity dies, especially unexpectantly, the media jumps into action to tell us all the juicy details. Sometimes this is a good thing; sometimes it just sells newspapers or magazines. In the wake of the latest deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I think it has been a good thing so far. It has been less than 12 hours since the news broke about Anthony Bourdain.  Television and radio reports have all included some of the details I have mentioned in the previous paragraph.

I say a good thing because the act of suicide itself should be discussed openly. If one is truthful, most of us have considered taking our own lives at one time or another. However, because the human spirit is so strong, the thought of suicide is replaced with survival.

In my early 20's, a long, long time ago since I am older than dirt, my best friend at the time told me her father committed suicide. I'd known her for over eight years, and we were pretty close before she shared this as she said she was ashamed to tell me about her father. How many people do you know that knew someone who took their own life?

My first job out of high school was a medical assistant to a pediatrician. One day after I had been working for him for about six months, he came to the office, eyes red and obviously in distress. His younger sister, who had been diagnosed with depression some years back, had hung herself in her garage. Her kids, 7 and 9, found her when they got home from school.

Spade leaves a 13-year-old daughter, and Bourdain leaves a 12-year-old daughter. Both these girls will live the remainder of their lives with the stigma of a parent that committed suicide. It will change them in ways that we can only imagine. I know this first hand as my friend shared many stories with me about how it changed her life when her father took his life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. I mention this fact, not for the salaciousness but because his death was well publicized as the deaths of Spade and Bourdain have been.

Mental illness is usually talked about behind closed doors, or once a year when it is mental health day. Depression is a big part of mental illness. It is a hidden enemy that sufferers mask and, in many cases, hide very effectively. How many lives could be saved if we just talked about this problem? When I say lives, I include the people left behind that have to deal with the aftermath of their loved one's decision.

Suicide affects a rising number of people, and it also affects the family and friends that have to deal with the nagging questions of: "What could I have done?" "Was it my fault?" "What kind of person am I that I couldn't see?" The questions are endless and are usually prompted by ‘guilt.' It can be a domino effect, one that each of us can begin to derail if we TALK about the issue.

The issue is mental illness. We can talk about our sex lives, our neighbors, or bosses, or our spouses – but we can’t talk about what effects millions of people all over the world. You may not know it, but I would venture to say that you know someone in your life that suffers from one form of mental illness or another. If you even suspect that someone you know and love may suffer from some sort of mental illness, be a good friend and talk about it. Sure, it will be uncomfortable, but I can tell you it won’t be as uncomfortable as living with the fact that you could have prevented a possible suicide.

The problem with mental illness is you never know what can put a person over the edge. That very precarious edge that causes them to take their own lives or that of another. In many cases suicide is not the only action a sufferer can take. Just read the headlines, and I'm sure you know what I am referring to.

If you suspect a problem with a friend, a family member, someone you love, or yourself and you don’t know how to broach the subject, call 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741-741. Or if you just want to share a story about someone that has affected your life, leave a comment and let's start a dialogue to make a difference.

By Carol Heath