On June 8th, Eric Ripert, a famed French chef, author, and tv personality, found himself worried due to the absence of his travel partner and longtime friend, Anthony Bourdain. The American had missed dinner the evening before and breakfast, a trend that was apparently uncommon. Deciding to check in, Ripert found his way to Bourdain’s hotel room, entered and discovered his longtime friend, unresponsive. Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide by hanging at the age of 61. His death came as a surprise to most, and mere weeks after designer Kate Spade decided to take her own life.
As always, celebrity suicide comes as a shock. Why would an individual who appears to have it all decide to kill themself? It’s a tough question that doesn’t seem to have any clear-cut explanation. Despite needless loss of life and the descent of confusion, anger, and other tough emotions on family, friends, and fans, celebrity suicide does provide one shining light in a dark cave of turmoil: it brings the reality of mental illness to the forefront of the public’s mind, allowing people to learn about mental health and how to fight against any pitfalls that come along with it. When celebrity suicide occurs, it allows the world to talk openly about depression and loss and death.
And still, suicide proves to be a frustrating reality to deal with. It’s an issue that transcends all religious, ethnic, gender, and sexual backgrounds; it’s a universal blight on the face of humanity to some and an inherent weakness to others. In honor of the late Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Tim Bergling (Avicii), and all other individuals worldwide who have decided to end their own lives, staring into the ambiguous face of suicide is something that we all need to do for the sake of prevention and understanding.
The Reality of Suicide in the United States
Across the globe, some 800,000 people commit suicide annually. Although the United States is outside the top ten most suicidal countries—the top five being Lithuania, Russia, Guyana, South Korea and Belarus—it contributes a large number to the collective total of self-imposed death worldwide. In 2016, nearly 45,000 people took their own lives in the United States, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death.
With such a large set of data, certain trends have emerged in relation to subgroups within the overall population that are at risk of self-harm and suicide. Understanding the cause of these trends is highly complicated and something that can’t be summed up without the assistance of more data and intense studies. With that, the obvious nature of said trends is fascinating and food for thought.
In terms of ethnicity, according to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, the group most affected by suicide is Whites at a rate of 15.17 per 100,000 people, followed closely by American Indians and Alaskan Natives at 13.37. Adversely, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Blacks show far lower rates of 6.62 and 6.03 respectively. It should be noted that the AFSP, according to their website, counts Hispanic rates separately from the other four groups because “individuals in all of these groups may also be Hispanic.”
Age is another factor that is clearly correlated with the advent of suicide. Generally speaking, as age increases so too does the prevalence of suicide. The age range most affected, however, is adults between 45 and 54 years of age. On the other end of the spectrum, young people 15 years old and younger have the lowest rates of suicide at .73 per 100,000 people. After the age of 15, rates skyrocket and grow exceedingly higher as age rises.
Gender is closely related to self-imposed death. Men are overrepresented in suicide figures, a truth that can be boiled down to one simple factor: method. Men are more likely to use violent means to end their own life—firearms and hanging—whereas women typically turn toward methods that are more insidious— like drug overdose. Despite men’s success rate, women attempt to commit suicide more often than their male counterparts, but due to their preferred methodology, they are usually discovered before it’s too late.
Is Suicide Selfish?
Among the many views of suicide, there is a strong collection of folks dedicated to the idea that the act is overtly selfish, and that those who act out in such a manner should be seen for what they are. Is it that simple, though?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word selfish literally means ‘concerned excessively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on own’s advantage, pleasure or well-being without regard for others’. The key here is pleasure. Those who commit or attempt to commit suicide typically do so because they’re attempting to escape overwhelming feelings of pain and sadness; flee from said emotions if you will. Pleasure and advantage simply have nothing to do with depression and feelings of self-harm.
A similar word, one more applicable to the reality of depression and suicide, is self-centeredness. While selfish and self-centered are synonyms, they differ slightly when their exact dictionary definitions are compared. Self-centered: ‘independent of outside force or influence’ or ‘concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests’. Self-centered is more of a connotation free version of selfish, really, and that means a great deal when it comes to the language used in discussing suicide.
Depression is exceedingly common in today’s world, and if left unchecked it can grow into a cumbersome burden; even a reason to end one’s life in the most extreme of cases. The nature of mental illness, generally speaking, occurs within the mind of an individual, making their cognitive experience one of a personal matter, or one that is self-centered. Unfortunately, depression, anxiety, and any other observable mental disorder can abjectly alter the perception of an individual. A brief example: researchers believe that serotonin may be directly involved in depression. One stimulus that boosts serotonin in the human brain is exposure to sunlight. When depressed, people often experience low energy, which in turn causes them to stay in bed and sleep. When you stay in and sleep you don’t get enough exposure to sunlight. In this specific case, depression can cause distorted perception that will potentially lead to further detrimental effects. Thus is the nature of mental illness.
So, is suicide selfish? Probably not. But it is a reality lived out in the mind an individual, making the overall experience one self-centered and highly personal in nature.
Looking at Anthony Bourdain’s Case
First and foremost, the death of Anthony Bourdain, and anyone for that matter, is terribly disheartening. Suicide is painful and confusing and abrupt, especially when it’s committed by a successful individual so full of life. The curious case of celebrity suicide speaks to the true nature of depression and self-harm: it’s a threat that has the power to reach anyone in spite of factors like wealth and fame.
Anthony Bourdain’s suicide is complicated for a more pressing matter than the mere fact he was famous. He left behind an 11-year-old daughter, and she’ll have to live the rest of her life pondering her father’s fragility the moment he decided to exit her life. The reality of parental suicide is a confusing subject to confront, and one that few kids have to toil to overcome.
In the current state of American culture, parenting has taken center stage before the collective attention of the nation. Issues like school shootings, social underdevelopment, and obesity can all, in part, be traced back to parental ineptitude. The crux of this particular issue is uncertain, but it’s one that has the potential to enact a heavy impact on future generations, especially when left unchecked.
Objectively speaking, when someone brings a child into the world, they have a duty to ensure safety, structure, and provision for that young person. Because of this basic fact, there is simply no argument to refute the impulsively that led to Anthony Bourdain killing himself; through a parenting lens, Bourdain’s decision was massively irresponsible. Of course, the complexity and runaway mental effect of depressive episodes shouldn’t be scoffed at or forgotten, but instead considered in conjunction with issues like parental responsibility.
Evidence of widespread love for Bourdain was expressed immediately after the news of his passing had been released upon the world. Regular, everyday people, celebrities, and beyond all came to the forefront to celebrate the life that Anthony Bourdain left behind. In short, the renown American chef created a legacy of culinary critique second to none; social commentary derived from widespread experience; and a sense of wonder at the wide and variable world man inhabits.
For all he gave to the world, it’s a genuine shame Anthony Bourdain’s journey had to end with a demise shrouded in uncertainty. But that’s the nature of suicide: it seems to strike without warning, without reason. Suicide is on the rise, and it has been for a long time. In order fight against suicide and mental illness, we, as a society, need to look into the ambiguous face of depression and self-harm and decide what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s acceptable and what should be rejected outright. Only then will we be able to prevent suicide and all the chaos dragged along with it.