Op-Ed: Anthony Bourdain’s death has us asking the wrong questions about suicide
The news of Mr. Bourdain’s tragic and untimely death has once again brought some of our favorite pop-culture icons to mind as individuals who have battled depression and suicide. And there’s no better example of this than the death of comedian Robin Williams. And yet there’s also no better example of how we should be approaching a celebrity who, for whatever reason, has ended his life.
After an emotional press conference Monday about how his death had affected his children and family members, and that his death was “unjustified,” Bourdain and his co-host, Anthony Bourdain, have been thrust into the position of “heroes to depression.” This narrative is a product of a very narrow and narrow-minded understanding of mental illness—an understanding only a very small portion of the population shares—and it’s a narrative that often is used as a rhetorical smokescreen to dismiss or ignore the very real struggle some people experience in their lives to cope with various forms of mental illness. For people who are struggling with depression and any other kind of mental illness, there’s no way to make sense of what’s happening in terms of an individual life’s trajectory, given the stigma and misinformation that surrounds a lot of different mental illnesses.
When celebrities end their lives, we’re often left to wonder, “How do people deal with depression? Is it really as bad as they seem to think it is?” “Does it look like a normal death?” or “Is it really possible to not be depressed after something like that?” We’ve become so conditioned to think of suicide as this completely natural, inevitable expression of hopelessness (an expression the people who commit suicide often try to escape from themselves). Because of that, to ask about a celebrity’s suicide—as Bourdain did Monday—feels a lot like asking about a suicide victim after they’ve died in front of their loved ones. We tend to feel better about a celebrity’s suicide—while it does clearly have consequences—if it’s an outward expression of mental illness (which can be just as debilitating as a mental illness in people’s lives). And we’re often hesitant to ask about