Over the past couple of weeks, two prominent figures, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, have been in the news for committing suicide. Yes, I said it just like that: committing suicide. I don't have a problem saying it, but it seems like many others do.
NowThis reported the loss of Spade by stating she "is dead at 55." There was absolutely no mention of the word "suicide." NowThis improved a little with Bourdain's death a few days later by including the suicide hotline phone number in the description of the article and inserted that CNN reported his death as a suicide.
As a society, we swarm to Netflix to stay caught up with "13 Reasons Why" and talk about how horrible these sensitive topics are in the context of the fiction tale of Hannah Baker. However, it seems we can't manage to take the messages from the show and apply them to real life. People seem to watch "13 Reasons Why" in a very private way. They post about how shaken up the show left them or how powerful the latest season has been. But rarely, if ever, do people actually discuss what exactly left them reeling. The word "suicide" is still taboo. We fail to realize that these problems are very real for our friends and neighbors. We fail to recognize that the time to make a change is now.
Thanks to the #MeToo and TimesUp movements, our society has agreed that sexual assault should not be tolerated under any circumstances. This is great because more and more offenders are coming to justice. But isn't it kind of sad that it took stories from Hollywood specifically (the Stanford rapist case didn't even do it!) for us to buckle down and fight sexual assault more head-on than ever?
At the time of her death, Spade was worth $200 million. Bourdain's TV show, "Parts Unknown," was averaging 828,000 viewers per new episode on Sunday nights when he lost his battle to mental illness. It's clear that no matter who you are nor what you have, depression can find you and leave you feeling hopelessly hopeless. I can only wonder how their struggles may have been lessened if we had been willing to have open conversations about depression and other mental illnesses in our society.
I don't like to talk about this, mainly because I'm afraid of how others will perceive me, but I battle a diagnosed anxiety condition that has veered itself into depression during a few rough periods of my life. I hate seeing a therapist because I live in fear of someone I know seeing me at my appointment. Why? Because there is a stigma against people with mental illnesses, such as that they're crazy or can't handle anything on their own, that I feel could have damaging impacts on my life if the wrong person finds out. I have avoided seeking help because I'm afraid of what others will think. This is where we have a problem.
We've all seen the stats showing just how prevalent mental illness is in our world, so we know it's not a rare health condition. But we refuse to accept that it's just that: a health condition. There are ways to get help, to save lives, if we could only brush past the fear of what "mentally ill" has meant in the past and what it still means in horror films. Depression and other mental illnesses don't have to get bad enough to lead to suicide and mental hospitals; they can be stopped with proper care at the onset just like any other medical problem.
If it really takes something happening to famous people to open up dialogues about critical topics, why haven't Spade and Bourdain, along with their many predecessors been enough for us to start talking?
I don't have all the answers, but I know posting the National Suicide Hotline without making changes that keep people from getting to that dark place to begin with is not the answer.