Depression; hidden in plain sight

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In the aftermath of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s deaths, stop asking why.

A friend of mine commented that he knew very little about Anthony Bourdain and was curious about the outpouring of grief. He decided to watch The Layover, and after viewing only one episode was puzzled. Not at the suicide but the shock that many of us experienced. In the one episode, Bourdain comments on the sadness of checking into a hotel alone, invites his taxi driver to eat with him so he is not by himself and laments about wanting some of his wife’s Vicodin. My friend went on to comment that maybe it was his style but the man clearly seemed to be struggling. This struck me. My friend was spot on. The signs were there.

When I read about Kate Spade, there were comments about her being depressed, having a history of depression and struggling recently. Now, we can all agree that hindsight is 20/20 but given these observations, we don’t need a clairvoyant to see the signs. We need to process them. We need to understand them. This is the result of the mental health stigma. It’s not like they were diagnosed with a terminal illness. We would feel bad but leave it to the professionals to treat them.

We don’t ask why people have tumors, an autoimmune disease or cancer. We automatically go into help mode. We visit them, we bring them food, flowers and cards. So, why is it that when someone reaches out or talks about depression or anxiety, the first question is why and I think that needs to stop.  

Why did they do it? That’s something that will be different for each person. It’s also conjecture. What we should be asking is how. How can we help? Or “what”, what can we do? Just like visiting the sick friend in the hospital, we need to reach out. Why the question “how can I help” is so powerful is that it allows the person to tell you. You are not making assumptions. As I said earlier, there is no singular cause for depression or anxiety. The best we can do is to listen and let them know we can help when they are ready.

We also need to understand the realities surrounding suicide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.

If we do the math, in the time between Kate Spade’s death and Anthony Bourdains’ approximately 6,480 people died by suicide.

This does not include attempted suicides. The WHO also believes that for every suicide there are possibly 20 attempts. Aside from Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, what other talents, abilities and knowledge have we missed out on. There were so many others.

Let’s please keep our eyes and hearts open. The signs are there and the simple act of asking someone “how can I help” can change everything.  We have become a society of people who hide behind masks. My hope is that we turn that around. We can start by taking off our own mask and showing that it’s ok to struggle. Next, we can encourage others to take off their masks.

We are all here for a reason. We all have purpose.

Robert SmithComment