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Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade Open up the Conversation About Suicide

June 11, 2018

Let’s talk about suicide. The two recent deaths by suicide of celebrities Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer and television personality, and Kate Spade, American fashion designer, have cracked open conversations about suicide and mental health—topics that are often seen as taboo—but may be key in understanding and getting the help (for ourselves or for others) needed during a crisis.

Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., and rates of suicide have increased in the last 20 years, affecting both genders, all ethnicities and age groups.

Risk Factors for Suicide

Mental illness, such as depression, is a risk factor for suicide. Surprisingly, 54% of people who committed suicide do not have a known mental health condition. Experts point out that this may mean a mental disorder, if present, had not been recognized or diagnosed.

Other risk factors include:

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family history of mental health or substance abuse
  • Chronic pain
  • Having guns or other firearms in the house
  • Family violence
  • Having recently been released from jail

And, while a person who attempts or dies by suicide may seemingly do it without warning, experts say there are usually warning signs, and the key is to pay attention to a person’s situational changes. A job loss, the end of a relationship or the death of a parent can bring grief, but if someone is having difficulty functioning during this time—i.e. losing weight or becoming socially withdrawn—they may need more support.

Surprisingly, 54% of people who committed suicide do not have a known mental health condition.


Signs of Suicide

The National Institute of Mental Health lists these indications that someone is contemplating suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to kill themselves or about death
  • Talking about feeling empty or hopeless
  • Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
  • Talking about being a burden
  • Talking about guilt or shame
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Changing sleeping and/or eating habits (i.e. not sleeping or sleeping all the time)
  • Using more alcohol or drugs
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Engaging in high risk behavior (driving extremely fast)
  • Seeking access to pills or firearms
  • Showing extreme mood swings
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family

How to Help a Person Considering Suicide?

It can be distressing, realizing someone you know is considering suicide. You may be worried that you can’t help or that you might say the wrong thing and make the situation worse. But being able to listen and acknowledge the person’s pain is a critical first step.

  • If you think someone is suicidal, you can directly ask if they’re having suicidal thoughts—this question will not tip them over the edge, rather it will open up the door to an authentic conversation.
  • Find out if the at-risk person has a specific plan and access to lethal items or places. Try to remove or disable the lethal items.
  • Listen, but don’t lecture, to find out what the person is feeling or thinking.
  • Do not promise secrecy if a person is feeling suicidal.
  • If they are in a crisis, do not leave them alone. Call 9-1-1 if they are in immediate danger—whether they request help or not. Otherwise, help them connect with someone they trust; a family member, friend or mental health professional.
  • Help them connect to resources at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or the Crisis Text Line (text 741741).
  • If you see a posting on social media that suggests someone is considering suicide, you can also contact the social media sites for help.
  • Follow up after the crisis—studies show that a simple check in with the at-risk person can help decrease deaths by suicide.

Types of Treatment for Suicidal Behavior

Mental health professionals recognize that someone who is contemplating suicide is in pain, and they may use a combination of medication and behavioral therapy to help address both the current crisis and the underlying issues. It may take a few attempts to find the right therapist or develop the most effective treatment combination. However, that effort can lead to mental health recovery and a positive view of life.

We often encourage people who are considering suicide to reach out for help—but the reality is those who are depressed and feeling hopeless may not be able to do that. For the friends, families, Facebook buddies, co-workers or others who notice that someone is in pain or may be in pain, let’s be the ones who reach out. Let’s open up that conversation about suicide and depression. Let’s listen without judgment and offer the resources that can help.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741 to talk with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free. Both resources provide 24/7 support and information.

Photo source: Anthony Bourdain at the Peabody Awards / via Flickr.

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