“Last time I saw all this, I think it’s fair to say, I was at a turning point in my life,” Anthony Bourdain says before embarking into the Borneo jungle. He was not afraid to discuss his long battle with substance use, an issue that millions of Americans struggle with.
In fact, recent data shows that annual deaths from opioid misuse have surpassed deaths by car accidents, guns, or breast cancer, highlighting an astoundingly dramatic increase in nationwide substance use disorders. 1, 2
“I have been hardened by the last 10 years. I don’t know what that says about me… but, there it is.” A crooked and nostalgic smile marks Tony’s face as he looks out on the Skrang River and realizes how much life has changed since those days.
From the outside, Anthony had the life of a free spirit and adventurer. Certainly, an accomplished and hardworking man dedicated to a wildly successful career. He created over a dozen critically acclaimed books, multiple award-winning TV series, and a bravely sarcastic public persona. Sadly, following his death on June 8, 2018, we learned that there were personal reasons for such an enormously talented individual to end his life.
Depression is currently the leading cause of disability in the world and mental health issues impact 1 in 5 Americans, Canadians, Britons, and Australians. 3 Research shows that these figures may be understated by over 30%, especially given misreported survey data (responders often lie on health questionnaires) and large homeless populations afflicted with mental illness. 4 CDC statistics released this week show that recorded rates of suicide in the U.S. have risen by more than 25% since the turn of the century. Furthermore, 75% of the world’s countries are considered underserved in terms of mental healthcare. 5
It’s easy to suddenly be flooded with sad and scary thoughts of Tony as someone who was successful at suicide. However, it is important to approach the concept with empathy and understand that this event does not define him as a person, nor does it damper the incredibly positive impact that he had on the world. Let’s not take this lightly — many people do not have a widespread impact on the world, yet chef Bourdain truly did.
A master of food, brilliant storyteller, brave traveler, and hardened realist, Anthony investigated the furthest corners of the world and gave exquisite glimpses into cultures that many will never see otherwise. Viewers were often enamored by his fluctuation between refinement and grit, as well as the weird, raunchy, sophisticated, and simple lives of the diverse individuals he visited. Oh, did I mention that he also happened to win a few Emmy’s along the way?
There can be speculation, but we will never know the real circumstances or motivation for his action. However, we can be grateful that such a profoundly outspoken public figure has shed light on a serious public health epidemic that is often glossed over because of stigma. Coming only a few days after the similar death of fashion designer Kate Spade, his death reinforces the notion that feelings of desperation associated with suicide can impact people of all ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses. Besides, Tony didn’t give a f*** about being criticized. His frank discussions and writings about global injustices, drug use, rehabilitation, and the dark years of his life encouraged an open dialogue on taboo topics that most people are frightened to even whisper.
Hundreds of articles on Anthony Bourdain have hit the news over the past few days. Many of them are structured similarly and extended their condolences to his family, girlfriend, ex-wives, and daughter. Almost all of this press also included a quick one-liner about his dear friend chef Eric Ripert, noting that he discovered an unresponsive Tony in a hotel room in France. In this sad ordeal, Eric, who was often a cheerful, globe-trotting “partner in crime” with Tony, is now the one who discovered his deceased friend.
In an episode of Parts Unknown in Marseille, France, Anthony turns to his friend and says, “I have never seen you wish ill on anyone as long as I’ve know you.” Eric laughs and raises his wine glass with a sly smile. Their friendship was undoubtedly special, as chef Ripert was commonly eating, exploring, and getting into messes with Tony.
However, Eric is also very much a victim, as he just experienced one of the most traumatic events of his life. In fact, research shows that the suicide of a friend or relative can result in profoundly long-lasting and life-changing grief in both adults and adolescents. 6 Although social support is helpful in many cases, some studies have found that extensively discussing the negative feelings associated with friends’ suicides could lead to the onset of depressive disorders. 7 Hence, understanding individualized needs during the grieving process is imperative, as each person may need a different bereavement approach.
There are many readers out there who understand this all too well. Those who appreciate the empty space left when someone they love has passed and knowing that nothing can ever replace the essence of that unique life. Tony was a man who made a career out of being himself and sharing his energy with millions of people. His fearless approach is something to be admired and, given his bluntly genuine opinions, maybe this final message is one that needs to resonate with the world.
Loneliness, sadness, depression, and anxiety are running rampant through our society and the wall of fear in discussing these issues must be broken down. A hurting mind does not exist in a “damaged” or “crazy” brain. We all experience emotional hardship and difficult situations. Let’s feel inspired by a man who faced humanity with such passion and be open to an honest dialogue about human challenges that have been neglected for far too long.
Tony, you have touched the lives of countless individuals and will be greatly missed. What you have accomplished in life will echo in eternity…
Need help or know someone who does?
There are options available to assist during difficult times.
Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use the Online Lifeline Crisis Chat. Both are free and confidential, and you will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
1. Kolodny, A. (2017, October 04). The opioid epidemic in 6 charts [The Conversation, US]. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/the-opioid-epidemic-in-6-charts-81601
2. Kounang, N. (2017, December 21). Opioids now kill more people than breast cancer [CNN]. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/21/health/drug-overdoses-2016-final-numbers/index.html
3. Schutt, Russell K. (2016), Social Environment and Mental Illness: The Progress and Paradox of Deinstitutionalization, in Brea L. Perry (ed.) 50 Years After Deinstitutionalization: Mental Illness in Contemporary Communities (Advances in Medical Sociology, Volume 17) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.91 – 118
4. Vigo, D., Thornicroft, G., & Atun, R. (2016). Estimating the true global burden of mental illness. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(2), 171-178. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(15)00505-2
5. National Council Medical Director Institute. (2017). The Psychiatric Shortage: Causes and Solutions (Rep.). Washington, DC: National Council for Behavioral Health. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Psychiatric-Shortage_National-Council-.pdf
6. Andriessen, K., Draper, B., Dudley, M., & Mitchell, P. B. (2015). Bereavement After Suicide. Crisis, 36(5), 299-303. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000339
7. Stone, L. B., Hankin, B. L., Gibb, B. E., & Abela, J. R. (2011). Co-rumination predicts the onset of depressive disorders during adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120(3), 752-757. doi:10.1037/a0023384
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