If you asked me to think of one person who could bring people together, who could sit down with anyone and have a meaningful conversation, who could shut up and just listen and learn, it would have been Anthony Bourdain. His show “Parts Unknown”, brilliant in a unique kind of way, taught us so much more than where to travel or where to eat.
Tony had the gift of making us feel connected to the world, its cultures, and its people. In his show, he was able to teach us that “we’re all just humans, trying to live a meaningful and productive life”.
His message was important, his legacy will live and he’ll be missed.
I know, I know, I am one of the gazillion people who is chiming in on the most recent suicides of two well-known people, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain; both deaths so very sad and tragic.
I mean every word I wrote up there. I feel heartbroken that Tony is gone. We need more people in this world like him, not less. However, if I am honest, I cannot claim to really mourn his death as I would the death of a loved one or someone emotionally close to me. I didn’t know him. I just knew what he stood for.
The reason I bring his death up: it’s proof once again that the demons of our minds don’t even stay away from people who seem to live glamorous lives, lives that many people aspire to. Suicide doesn’t discriminate by race, gender, or social status.
We need to start talking about mental health in a different way.
(What else is new?)
[bctt tweet=”We need to start talking about mental health in a different way. #endthestigma” username=”@san_in_ca”]
In German, we have another word for “suicide”, which is ‘Freitod’ (‘free death’). The word was coined by 19th-century German philosopher and writer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and was supposed to describe a death that was chosen “autonomously and with a clarity of mind”.
I wonder if people have pondered this definition over the last century, now that we believe to understand that people who choose to die by their own hands are often seen to have battled mental health issues. So, by that description, does that still imply “clarity of mind”? I wouldn’t think so.
On second thought, I realized: the phrase, in the German language, is also ambiguous. Maybe nowadays, we should interpret the phrase ‘Freitod’ differently. People who chose suicide often feel like they’re setting themselves (and others) free. They are finally free from pain, from constant struggles, from trying to make it through just one more day.
We tend to say ‘hang in there, it will get better’ (God knows how often I have used – and believed – this phrase), but what if it doesn’t get better? What if help doesn’t come or, worse, doesn’t seem to work? How long do people keep trying, how long do they “hang in there”, when they don’t see the light at the end of that endless tunnel?
Look, I am no expert that has personal first-hand experience with mental health struggles (and I am beyond thankful for it). I am not depressed, I am usually not an anxious person, and I generally have a glass-half-full kind of attitude. I believe that there is a solution for most problems, and I always try to find the silver-lining in any situation.
That doesn’t mean though that I don’t excel at overthinking (I am exceptional at that, to tell you the truth!) or that I don’t tend to grapple with the usual struggles of life like anybody else. I also know it’s not the same. I don’t know from personal experience what it’s like to feel so hopeless that you don’t want to live another day.
Sadly, I do have close second-hand experiences with mental health issues. I know more people that struggle with their mental health than I prefer. (Well, I’d prefer none. Obviously.) And there are probably also a number of people who struggle and I don’t know about it because they have never shared their struggles or don’t want to burden anyone.
So sometimes, I worry. I worry that I don’t see that someone needs any (or extra) help. I worry that I miss a sign, or Heaven forbid, I dismiss it as something else.
I’d like to think, or desperately hope, that most people’s threshold is so high that they will ask for help or seek treatment before they harm themselves, but if successful celebrities, with seemingly all the resources in the world, are not immune to being overtaken by their demons, my hunch is that it can happen to anyone.
My plea today is: let’s be more open about how we’re feeling and what’s going on with us.
I think the most important step we have to take to prevent such occurrences is fighting the stigma that comes with mental health issues.
You know, how there is always an outcry when beloved people commit suicide (and rightly so), but an outrage when some disturbed person commits mass murder? Obviously, those are two different extremes of the spectrum, but what these people have in common is that their brains are broken.
If people are not comfortable sharing their struggles, if they’re afraid to be judged or outcast, if they’re ashamed of not being taken seriously, we’re in deep waters, friends.
As long as we offer support and understanding to people who battle cancer or other serious illnesses without hesitation, but blame people with mental health issues for their broken parts, we’re going to have a problem. Ask yourself why we think it is ok to take pills for diabetes or high blood pressure, but not ok to take a pill that fixes your brain? If we can’t realize and accept that mental illness is an illness like any other that deserves the same support and understanding, how are we going to move forward and prevent any tragedies from happening in the future? If mental health services are not available or affordable to those who need them, how do we intend to fix this?
I admit, this post is all over the place. I have a lot of thoughts on the mental health discussion that has been going around, but I firmly believe that if we can change our language and our attitudes around the subject, we might eventually be able to get somewhere.