Suicide is a preventable tragedy

Published 10:06 pm Saturday, June 9, 2018

Dale Earnhardt Sr. Robin Williams. Anthony Bourdain.

I’m not a huge pop-culture buff. I don’t get caught up in a lot of pro sports, movies or television. I listen to music but don’t know much about the artists. So it’s rare that a celebrity death affects me as much as Anthony Bourdain’s did this week, and as much as Williams and Earnhardt before him.

My husband was a fan of his show and introduced me to it at some point after we first started dating. I was immediately entranced with the way Bourdain encouraged people not only to travel, but to seek the true culture of the place to which they had traveled. Get away from the tourist traps, he encouraged people. Seek out the out-of-the-way eateries, the less popular museums and sights, the small cultural events, the real people who truly make up the culture and atmosphere of the locale. In short, seek what’s authentic and real, not the perfectly crafted “culture” that’s created especially for tourists.

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My husband loved Bourdain so much that, for his birthday, I gave him meet-and-greet passes to Bourdain’s show at the Ferguson Center in Newport News in 2013. We laughed, we cried, we ate some good food at the reception, and we got a memorable photo with Bourdain.

We both were shocked Friday morning to learn of Bourdain’s death. It came just days after the death, also by suicide, of fashion designer Kate Spade. I don’t care a lick about fashion and barely knew who she was, but it’s always sad to see someone gone too soon.

It seems every time there is a celebrity suicide, some people get offended by the publicity, noting that everyday people die by suicide every day and do not receive such levels of ink and airtime.

It’s true, but saying so dehumanizes the celebrity — they also have a soul and made positive contributions to society and have family and friends who cared about them — and diminishes the impact that remembering their life could have in terms of bringing attention to the problem of suicide.

Indeed, through reading several articles inspired by Spade’s and Bourdain’s deaths this week, I learned some things about suicide.

Coincidentally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released their most recent statistics on suicide this week. Unfortunately, those statistics show suicide is on the rise.

In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. It is the 10th leading cause of death and one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.

In Virginia, that was a 17.4-percent increase.

It’s important to note that, while the statistics make it look common, suicide is still rare. In 2012, the age-adjusted death rate was 12.6 per 100,000. It was 170.5 per 100,000 for the leading cause of death, heart disease.

But suicide, like many of the leading causes of death, is preventable, and there are things that can be done. With treatment, there is hope.

From the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, here are some warning signs and what you can do:

  • Warning signs of suicide
  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not always be present and may not be what causes a suicide.

What to do:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional