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Last week a woman who went to my church took her own life and this week designer, Kate Spade, and cultural and culinary journalist, Anthony Bourdain, hung themselves. Like you, I’m stunned and saddened, but the more I learn about suicide, I realize we shouldn’t be surprised.

According to the Center for Disease Control, each year, more people die from suicide than from car accidents. The suicide rate in America has increased 25 percent in the last 20 years.

Statistics show people who are depressed are less likely to come forward and seek help. They’re afraid of what other people will think.

Kate Spade’s sister said at one point, Kate was all packed, ready to go somewhere for help, when she changed her mind because, “What will people think?”

On the other hand, Anthony Bourdain never shied away from talking openly about his thoughts of suicide or his addiction to heroin and cocaine in his early years and his use of alcohol. In February of this year, Bourdain told People Magazine he felt “some responsibility to at least try to live” after the birth of his daughter in 2007.

I know something about depression, but I’ve never thought about suicide.

My husband, James, died unexpectedly on Christmas, 2010, and because of the family bully, I lost the rest of James’s family the same day. There are no words to describe that kind of hurt…

At the same time, my mother was in a dementia facility. Daily she asked, “How’s James?” or “Where’s James?” “Why doesn’t James come to see me?” She asked this over and over, each time I visited her. Because of her dementia, I feared if I told her the truth, she wouldn’t remember the details. What if she remembered someone died, but thought it was me? Or what if I had to explain how he died, repeatedly, every day for the rest of her life? So each time I went to see her, I made up a story. “He’s fine mom. He’s working on a new project,” or “He and his son are on a trip.” This went on for the next six years… until her death.

Even though my friends were there for me, missing your spouse and your family means you are alone. The worst kind of alone. I’m made of tough stuff, but grief and lack of family was taking it’s toll, and I didn’t want to seem needy. After all, I’m Ramborella. I can survive anything! At some point my longtime friend and trainer was worried enough about me that he called one of my oldest and dearest friends. She, in turn, called me. It was after our call that I began to see a therapist and spoke, repeatedly, with my family physician.

I promise to cover my treatment in-depth in another blog. Right now I just want everyone to know we’ve all experienced depression to varying degrees. While we may not consider suicide as an option, more and more of our friends are choosing to take their own lives.

We must open the conversation and erase the stigmas that surround depression.

What are Anthony Bourdain’s and Kate Spade’s friends and family thinking right now? Their devastation is mingled with “if only… ” If only I’d done something. If only I’d pushed him/her to open up more about their depression. If only I’d been there for them. If only I’d made them get help. The problem with “if onlys” is they’re a mobius strip of unanswered questions that will never leave you. Kate Spade’s 13-year-old daughter and Anthony Bourdain’s 11-year-old daughter will never get over their parent’s suicide. NEVER.

If you’re depressed, or your emotions run the gamut from happy one day to the depths of despair the next, or you’re self-medicating with alcohol… Tell someone! If they don’t listen to you, tell someone else. Find someone you trust and look up to and tell them how you’re feeling. ASK FOR HELP! You don’t have to live with depression. Suicide is not the answer.

If you ARE EVER FEELING DEPRESSED, ALONE, DESPONDENT, or thinking about suicide…. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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  1. Brenda,

    Great post and this must be openly discussed within our families and friendship circles.
    I have never experienced a close family member or have had a friend commit suicide, but I know parents of autistic children who have taken their lives , which is another blog post I need to write someday.
    I do not know how it feels to be depressed and I cannot imagine how desparate these people were to never want to see another day.

    Hugs to you,

    • Robin,
      Great idea for a blog post… I encourage you because those parents are in such a sad and overwhelming position. I have a friend with a son, who’s now an adult and severely autistic. I’ve often wondered how she handles this huge responsibility. He’s like a baby and relies on her for everything. I can see how challenging and depressing it could be, because my friend doesn’t have much of a life outside of her son, and her husband left them when their son was very young. She is a woman of faith who pours out her heart to God, and He’s always been there for her. Watching coverage about Anthony Bourdain’s death I heard a mental health professional say most people will not try suicide again if someone reaches out to them, or they have a lifeline that talks with and listens to them. It sounds like Bourdain had been contemplating suicide for years… I can’t imagine what pain he was in those last few days. xoxox, Brenda

  2. The stigma is somewhat reduced from what it was, but still not nearly enough. An open discourse is absolutely the answer! Thank you for sharing this, Brenda!

    • Hi Diane, You’re right, mental health issues aren’t quite the stigma they used to be, but it’s still lurking in the closet. Thank you for reading. All of us need to have a conversation with our friends… We never know which one of them might open up in a way that just talking with us may help them. xoxox, Brenda

  3. Excellent post and advice, Brenda. I’ve been up and down that hill a lot lately but, for me, it’s all about getting the best professional help available and, that’s what I’m doing.

    • Brava, Barbara! I’m sorry you know what depression is like, but getting professional help for depression is so smart. We do that when we have a bad back, a rash, etc. I hope mental health issues will soon be on par with physical health issues in that we talk to a professional. For too long I lived in silence, thinking I could snap out of it, but as you know, that’s not how depression works. I”m not on meds, but, it takes daily maintenance so I don’t regress. xoxox, Brenda

  4. Brenda,
    My first husband committed suicide when he was 29 years old. He always told me he didn’t think he’d live to be 30. He tried to drink away his demons, when that didn’t work he killed himself. From my experience I believe there is very little that can be done if someone is determined to end their life. For us, during our eleven year relationship and our young marriage there were counselors and therapists, friend intervention, corporate intervention from his place of employment, doctors, several hospitalizations, constant checking in with him, lots of talking and begging and threatening and crying and trying to understand. It took a long for me to realize and accept that he just didn’t want to go on, and so he didn’t.
    It also took me time to realize that his family was not a great loss to me. During his deepest struggles and then after his death they showed their true colors – the entire family turned on and blamed me. They placed the enormous responsibility for his actions upon me. In addition to the fear and grief I experienced during his struggles and after his tragic death, I was shocked and deeply hurt by people close to me whom I thought loved me. I never saw or heard from them again after he died. They didn’t attend the beautiful memorial service my family, friends and I gave for him. Sadly, many years later their other son killed himself, too. So much grief and loss and waste of lives. During family counseling sessions their parents had insisted that each of those brilliant, funny, kind, gentle young men – should “just get on with it”and “be tough”.
    I did not carry the guilt of his death for very long.
    I believe it is very difficult to help someone who is determined NOT to live. And sometimes even if you are a professional, once the decision has been made by someone to end their own life there may be little that can be done. That doesn’t mean you should EVER give up trying to help someone who is hurting, and I did everything I could to help my husband, for as long as I could. But, because he wasn’t interested in living anymore, I didn’t have the power to keep him alive.
    Xo Heidi

    • Oh Heidi, What a sad, tragic marriage you endured. I’m heartbroken for both of you. I know what it’s like to have a husband who doesn’t want help although my first husband didn’t want to commit suicide. He had an alcohol/cocaine problem… nightmare. You must have lived every day like waiting for a bomb to go off, wondering if “today” was the day. I, too, tried intervention with my husband. I kept thinking I could make him “see the light,” but like you, I learned no one can make anyone else change. But dealing with suicide at such a young age… I’m sorry for what you went through. I’m glad to hear you let go of any guilt.

      Families can sometimes be strange units. Even if they don’t liken another or are afraid of one another, they’re blood, and blood trumps everything else. By turning an outsider into the bad guy, it relieves them of all responsibility. They don’t have any “what ifs.” My second husband’s family did that. I was the outsider. After his memorial service, they stood together and watched as people stood in line to speak to me. Later, so many people told me they lost all respect for my husband’s family because they left me to stand there by myself. xoxox, Brenda

    • Oh, Heidi, I’m so sorry for what you went through. My best friend years ago had a similar experience, and would agree with you. Her husband told her that he was going to do it, but that he would wait until she was ready. (Like anyone could ever be ready!) He refused to get help. He waited years, but it was (of course) devastating. God is faithful, but that was crushing. His family totally blamed her. She ended up being a permanent missionary abroad.

      • Beckye!!! What a delusional statement to make! “until she was ready… ” It’s sad and tragic when families separate and blame the spouse in these situations… I know people are hurting in ways we couldn’t imagine, but… I still think that’s an easy route to absolve themselves of any blame. xoxox, Brenda

  5. thank you for sharing this very raw and personal post. May your journey of healing help those who need to hear it. No one is perfect or has a perfect life, we all have some or other issue. It is time for society to be more proactive in destigmatising mental health.

    • Hi Noreen, You’re so right. No one is perfect or has a perfect life. I have a friend who wanted… more than anything… to have a perfect family because she didn’t have one as a kid. Of course she doesn’t have one now… none of us do, and it’s hurt her to her core. We can only hope that Anthony Bourdain’s and Kate Spade’s death open some doors of shame that allow us to talk about mental health issues and see them in a different light. Thank you for reading, sweet lady. Brenda

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