This month, we saw multiple celebrities die by suicide. Every time information like this hits the news, whether we know of the celebrity or not, it’s like a punch in the guts. Obviously, death by suicide is just generally upsetting. But celebrities? They’ve got money. Friends. Huge, blossoming careers. They’ve got everything to live for, right?
As often happens when it comes to suicide, friends and family around these celebrities said they seemed fine. Happy, even. Life was going well for them.
“We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy,” Kate Spade‘s estranged husband Andy said of the fashion designer. “There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock.”
While people around celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain did say the star seemed “exhausted” by a gruelling schedule, the same message was delivered from people around him as well.
“We never had any sense of depression or mental illness. He was not especially cheerful or engaging, off camera, but it was never rude or ill-intentioned. The guy was absolutely exhausted,” a source told People.
It’s important to send out the message of helplines people can call when they feel suicidal, or have mental health issues. But for many people suffering, it can feel impossible to reach out for help. That’s where we need to step in.
Depression and anxiety are sly dogs. Not only can they creep up on you, they can take a vice-like grip on your brain, leaving you feeling helpless and alone – with the shitty added bonus of feeling like you either can’t physically reach out, or like you need to put on a mask to face the world.
I struggle with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder, but most people who aren’t close to me wouldn’t know it. For better or worse, I put on a mask any time I’m feeling shit-house, sometimes because getting on with it is the only thing you can do. This is fine – I’ve learnt over years of seeing psychologists that anxiety is something I’ll live with forever, learning to manage it so it impacts my life less and less. There will be times when I’m anxious and just need to ride it out. However, sometimes – because I feel like I’ve reached my reaching-out quota, or I don’t even know where to start – I’ll put the mask on when really I need to be saying “I’m not OK’. You wouldn’t know I was under a dark cloud because I will keep it from you.
I have several friends who suffer from depression who tell me it’s even worse for them. We know this – people with depression often fall into the pit and just can’t get out. They can’t muster up energy to ask for help or to seek out friends. Some will retreat to their apartment and not answer the phone. Some will just pretend everything is OK when it really, really isn’t.
This is why we need to reach out, and not just to our friends and family who seem flat. We need to check in on everyone in our lives when we can.
Let me clarify something first. This isn’t about “saving” people. There is no blame on the people in Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade’s lives for what happened. They didn’t fuck up by not checking in right before these people died. This isn’t about preventing suicide – although hopefully in some cases, checking in on someone will prevent suicide. It’s about being aware of how mental health can work, and what we can do for our loved ones to support them.
So what can you do for your “they seem fine” mates? Checking in on them doesn’t have to be intense. Beyond Blue encourages the “Ask / Listen / Support” process, which basically involves checking in, listening to what they have to say, and offering your support whether it be a number to call when they’re feeling shit or finding them a professional to speak to.
Even a simple text to see how someone is going can do wonders. If a friend seems distant or like they’ve been avoiding social situations, taking them for a coffee or swinging ’round to their place can be exactly what someone who’s withdrawing needs. If you know someone’s just had a breakup or a loved one pass away, or any life event that might compromise their mental health, asking them if they’re doing ok (even if they seem totally cool with things) can be the opening they need to say “no, I’m actually not”.
Honestly, the smallest gesture can have a real impact for someone who’s going through some shit.
If you are contemplating suicide or having suicidal thoughts, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.