The recent passings of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain left many asking, how could two successful people who brought others such joy be so unhappy?
Their tragic deaths raised awareness of suicide and depression, shedding light on startling statistics indicating a national uptick in people taking their own lives. If there is any silver lining, it is that the back-to-back celebrity suicides sparked a healthy, open dialogue about depression and suicide because, most importantly, while increasingly prevalent, it is also preventable.
“Spade and Bourdain were human beings struggling with a core human emotion — a profound sadness that caused them to lose all hope and take their lives,” says Eda Franco, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Nassau County. “It could happen to anyone.”
Rates of suicide have increased by 30 percent between 1999 and 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that each year, nearly 45,000 Americans take their own lives. Locally, Nassau suicides declined from 100 in 2013 to 91 in 2015 and 141 to 137 in Suffolk for the same time period, according to the latest statistics available from the state health department.
Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, grandparents. Poor, wealthy, famous or not. All ages, any race, gender, ethnicity. Depression does not discriminate.
Contributing factors to someone committing suicide may be unrelated to mental illness, experts say.
“A loss of a relationship on top of other losses, coupled with a lack of coping skills — for some individuals that could be a significant reason for them to consider their life worthless,” says Garra Lloyd-Lester, director of Community Initiatives for the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.
Feelings of deep shame, embarrassment, and being trapped could also cause someone to act irrationally in a desperate state, he notes.
Individuals with depression who are taking prescription medication for depression, anxiety, etc. must be consistently monitored, says Karen Boorshtein, CEO of the Huntington-based Family Service League.
“All medications have side effects,” she says.
Alcohol consumption in addition to drugs such as opioids can increase feelings of hopelessness, she adds.
KNOW THE SIGNS
“Look for changes in behavior,” says Franco.
Extreme exhaustion, irritability, sadness, distraction, aloofness, decrease in work productivity, lack of motivation.
“When you’re in a deep clinical depression, you may experience prolonged sadness,” she adds. “You don’t want to move.”
“They don’t know how to go on living at that particular moment in time with the psychic and emotional pain they are feeling,” Lloyd-Lester says. “They’re not able to see clearly at the moment and everything leads in one direction [for them],” he adds.
Bring them to the present.
START WITH CONVERSATION
“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Lloyd-Lester says. “It’s about being real and genuine and connecting with that person. So, if you ask someone directly and openly in a caring manner [if they are contemplating suicide] and they say ‘no’ and you don’t believe them, ask them if they ever did get to that point, what would they do or who would they tell?”
Most importantly, let them know they are not alone. Share resources. Trained professionals — counselors, therapists, psychologists, etc. — can help both the individual in crisis and their loved ones, too.
“People in the community can play a role in helping keep people safe,” Lloyd-Lester says.
It’s OK to talk more openly with kids, too, he notes: “How they understand it needs adult guidance.”
SUICIDE PREVENTION SOURCES
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Crisis Hotline and Services, Nassau County
Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Family Service League, Suffolk County
Long Island Crisis Center
Mental Health Association of Nassau County
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Response of Suffolk County Crisis Center
Suicide Prevention Resource Center for New York
The Trevor Project (For LGBTQ Youth)