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Opinion: Anthony Bourdain’s death makes us ask the wrong questions about suicide

In a new unauthorized biography, many people are again talking about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide in June 2018. As is often the case with people who die by suicide, much of the chatter involves questions such as: how did they do it? Who was the last person they spoke to? What was different about that day? What was the impetus for this? We want to understand, and sometimes we are looking for someone to blame.

Even Albert Camus, in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, falls prey to such thinking. writing“What causes a crisis is almost always unverifiable. Newspapers often talk about “personal woes” or about “an incurable disease.” These explanations are plausible. But one would have to know whether a friend of a desperate man did not address him on the same day with indifference. He is guilty”.

But this way of thinking devalues ​​the death and struggle of anyone who has committed suicide or attempted suicide. Suicide for most people is a process. Sometimes this process begins at a very early age. Writer David M. Perry talks about his suicidal thoughts, which began at the age of 9. I have a former student who first attempted suicide by riding his tricycle through a window as a child. My own desire to kill myself is one of my first memories.

Suicidal thoughts can also be a regular part of a person’s life. Australian podcaster Honor Eastley describes herself as thinking about suicide every day, sometimes dozens of times a day. Authors Margot Jefferson and Donald Antrim talk about what Jefferson calls suicide exercises. For Jefferson, this meant putting her head in the oven for longer and longer periods of time; for Antrim, that meant spreading a tarp on the floor of his apartment and lying there with a knife to cut his wrists or his throat. These experiences are not extreme for many suicidal people; they are typical. Anna Borges recently wrote about what we call “passive suicidal thoughts”: does not actively plan to commit suicide, but fantasizes about it constantly, sometimes for days on end.

Some of these people, like Jefferson, never make an attempt; some, like Antrim, make one attempt, survive, and hopefully never try again. Others, like myself, make several attempts, perhaps knowing that with each attempt the likelihood of suicide increases significantly. There are those, like David Foster Wallace, who make numerous attempts and also write about and struggle with the death wish, but in the end are killed by their own hands. And there are people like Bourdain who make only one attempt – as far as we know – and succeed. However, no matter where a person falls in terms of how they attempt or contemplate suicide, there are almost always warning signs – mental breakdown, crises, and cries for help big and small. Suicide is not usually an impulsive act that takes one or more days to prepare.

Suicide is also not inevitable, no matter how often a person thinks about it. Most deaths due to suicide can be avoided and prevented with proper care, which does not have to come from a qualified professional. One of the nation’s leading experts on suicide, Dr. John Draperproject director of the National Suicide Prevention Network, told me that perhaps the most important thing to know about helping suicidal people is that “anyone can do it.”

“Explain that you are concerned, that you care that you want to talk about it. Then whatever they tell you, just listen, think, be curious. Don’t judge. You could let them know that they can get through it.

Suicide Prevention and Crisis Counseling Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek professional help and call 9-8-8. The first nationwide three-digit 988 mental health crisis hotline in the United States will connect callers with trained mental health counselors. Text “HOME” to 741741 in the US and Canada to contact Crisis text line.

How can we get through this? The ancient Stoics, who believed that suicide was morally justified under certain circumstances, made an argument called “the door is always open.” The idea is that if things get this bad, you know you have a way out. But knowing this knowledge, suddenly even very painful situations become less claustrophobic. No need to panic. You don’t have to fight or flee. You can breathe through it. Wait just one day.

We know it after famous people kill themselves, the number of suicides increases. But talking about suicide is the best medicine we know for helping suicidal people. For every person who dies by suicide, about 280 people are currently viewing it.

Humans are complex, contradictory beings, full of irrationality, cognitive and emotional dissonance. We are allowed to be both extremely grateful for life and desperately trying to escape from it. The last unknown part that Bourdain showed us was this: It’s okay to feel suicidal. Nothing to be ashamed of. Talk to someone about it. Talk to several friends. They will remind you of what we would like to say to Anthony Bourdain that night. “Stay here, just for a day. We love you. In the morning, things can look much better.”

Clancy Martin is a writer and professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and Ashoka University in New Delhi. His forthcoming book is titled How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind.



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