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Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and the importance of mental health awareness


Anthony Bourdain is photographed as he promotes his new book "Medium Raw" at the Hazlitts club in London on Sept. 2, 2010. Bourdain was found dead Friday, June 8, in his hotel room of an apparent suicide at age 61. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Just days after fashion designer Kate Spade was found dead in her Manhattan apartment June 5 — from what authorities said was suicide — celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died June 8 in France, with the apparent cause also being suicide. 

Spade’s stylish and affordable handbags remain a status symbol and a token of adulthood for women. Bourdain, on the other hand, was admired for his honest outspokenness and his passion for the food the world has to offer. 

While the world mourns the losses of these two icons, it is important to acknowledge their passing serves as a grim reminder that mental health issues do not discriminate, and anyone could be at risk regardless of wealth, status or background. 

Research published by the US Centers for Disease Control  on June 7 shows suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 to 2016, with about 45,000 lives lost to suicide alone in 2016. Globally, suicide accounts for nearly 1 million deaths each year, according to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates one in five U.S. adults suffer from a mental illness; in total there were 44.7 million people in 2016. Another analysis done by the World Health Organization in 2004 found about 87 percent of 3,275 persons studied who died by suicide were previously diagnosed with a mental disorder. 

These chilling numbers should be a wake-up call for all of us to pay more attention to the mental well-being of those we love. However, despite recent strides in creating support systems and increasing societal awareness, we still have a lot of work to do to make mental health a mainstream topic. The biggest challenge would be the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

Patients suffering from mental illness often have a hard time sharing their struggle with others, due to fear of dismissal, ridicule or even discrimination. Indeed, there are too many instances when someone with depression is told to “cheer up and look on the bright side of life,” and someone with anxiety may be called “weak” and is told to relax. 

The tragedies of Spade and Bourdain have taught us mental health issues do not discriminate. Because of this, we all have a part to play to put an end to mental illness stigma and create a supportive environment for people to say what they need to say. Every word and every action matters. It is between life and death after all, and what is more precious than life? 

Take time to listen. If somebody trusts you enough to open up to you, prove to them that they made the right choice. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand, not judge, and never, ever try to dismiss them with words such as “You’re just having a bad week.” 

Take time to be attentive. Check on your friends, check on your family and check on your loved ones. If you sense something wrong with somebody around you, don’t be afraid to step up and ask them the simple question of “Are you OK?” 

And to those of you who are fighting your own battles out there, I wish you nothing but the best. Always know we are with you every step of your way. 

If you or someone you know is struggling and having thoughts about suicide right now, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741. 

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