Yes, I have to weigh in on the most recent celebrity suicides

I’ve been grappling with the two suicide deaths by famous people last week – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Both successful and productive. Both seemingly having no reasons to end their lives. So what made them do it? I’ve heard that Spade was suffering from depression and was getting help. I’ve recently learned that Bourdain also had bouts of depression, and that in his early days he had drug and alcohol problems. Needless to say, they both had their demons. However, they say it isn’t only mental illness – it could be what’s going on in our world, including poverty, homelessness and unemployment or stress on the job – that trigger suicide.

In a recent “New Yorker” article, Andrew Solomon states: “There is another factor that should not be underestimated. On a national stage, we’ve seen an embrace of prejudice and intolerance, and that affects the mood of all citizens. My psychoanalyst said that he had never before had every one of his patients discuss national politics repeatedly, in session after session. Now there is a continuous strain of anxiety and fear from one side, and brutality from the other. Hatred is depressing—it is of course depressing to be hated, but it is also depressing to hate. The erosion of the social safety net means that more and more people are at a sudden breaking point, and there are few messages of authentic comfort to offer them in these pitiless times. One is done in by disease, by isolation and despair, and by life crisis. At the moment, many people’s vulnerability is exacerbated by the unkindness manifest in each day’s headlines. We feel both our own anguish and the world’s. There is a dearth of empathy, even of kindness, in the national conversation, and those deficits turn ordinary neurosis into actionable despair.”

A young friend who has a daughter in pre-school queried me about my thoughts about the selfishness of Spade’s act – since she left a young child. I hear now that both of these famous people left young children. Here are her question and my answers:

“Good morning Madeline! Do you mind if I ask you an opinion question regarding suicide? Obviously there’s a lot of talk with the two recent celebrity deaths.”

“No. Go ahead,” I said.

“Thank you. I know that you know me well enough to know that I am open-minded. I absolutely acknowledge the huge role that mental illness plays in most suicides. I also think that mental illness is a real illness that should be regarded like the big ugly illnesses that you can see and that are tangible.

“Someone in my mommy group posted about Kate Spade leaving an 11-year-old daughter behind. I commented that I think suicide is selfish. It was a short sentence and the people who received it don’t know me personally.

“And I back pedaled, saying that I thought it was selfish while leaving a minor child. And then of course I got hit with is it selfish for a cancer patient to die leaving an 11-year-old daughter?

I think if someone follows through and commits suicide they truly were hopeless and feeling like they could not recover. But I also feel that leaving a minor child is incredibly selfish. What do you think?”

“I have an appointment in a few minutes so I’ll write a more detailed answer when a get back. Yet my bottom line is: I think leaving a child, a mother, any loved one by suicide is a selfish act. It leaves all survivors in a horrible state – forever! More later….” was my first response.

Later in the day, I wrote:

“So, even though I believe it is selfish, I also believe – as [my son] Paul’s doctor said the day after his death – that he was in so much pain, suicide was the only way he knew to release it. I also truly believe that mental illness is like physical illness that can cause so much pain a person can’t live with it anymore. Also, people with mental illness must get proper treatment and stay on it, just like they do with their physical illnesses. I’ve read that Kate Spade was being treated for depression. Her story may be very much like Paul’s. She had to release her pain. And of course knowing that doesn’t help the survivors – especially her young daughter. Suicide is an epidemic now and caused by many reasons. We must find a way to stop it – probably education would be a place to start. Anyway, that’s enough of my two cents.”


That was the end of our conversation. I also sent her a link to an article in the HuffPost about how to have a conversation about suicide. We must communicate now and always. Saying the suicide word doesn’t make it happens. It helps prevent it from happening.

I also posted about my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide on Facebook, thinking that it might help others wrap their arms around the two most recent celebrity suicides and the epidemic of suicides going on in our county and elsewhere. I also mentioned how important communication, education, and education are. Will that help? I really doubt it, but at least I’ve taken a stab. To begin the conversation I have decided to post suicide prevention contact information at the bottom of all my Facebook posts whether they are about suicide or not. Here they are:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
Call 1-800-273-8255
Available 24 hours everyday
International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP)

One more thing – important to all suicide survivors like myself and my family. We are at greatest risk to complete the act of suicide. Staying strong, helping others, and writing helps me keep it together.






  1. Hi, all is going perfectly here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s truly good, keep
    up writing.

  2. I think suicide isn’t so much selfish as it is thoughtless. Selfish would be prioritizing the prospect of personal relief over the pain friends and family might inevitably experience. Thoughtless means you fail to apprehend the impact your death would have in the first place.

    With depression, the brain is functioning on a flawed operating system — and it’s easy to rationalize others would be better off. You see yourself as a burden— a plague; and overcome by the guilt of your own existence, you presume others want to be rid of you as much as you want to be rid of yourself.

    A severely depressed brain is incapable of grasping the true horror of self-annihilation. It’s not understanding and then selfishly doing it anyway, despite knowing how others will feel. It’s a distorted system of reasoning that, little by little, persuades you you’d be doing yourself (and everyone else) a favor. Or having so little appreciation for yourself that you decide your absence is inconsequential.

    I also think selfishness is generally a calculated choice. But depression of this sort, robs an individual of choice. Our brain is the instrument by which we “choose”, and when it ceases to function normally, free-will becomes a nebulous concept. We often judge suicide through the lens of a healthy, functioning brain, capable of normal rationalizations (“I could never do this. Just think of what this would do to______”). I truly believe if those who have lost their lives to suicide were capable of that, they would still be here with us.

Speak Your Mind