Personality

Your Life Matters – The Dangers of the Suicide Chain

Never let a stumble in the road be the end of your journey.

I am not okay this morning and having trouble organizing my thoughts. Earlier this week Kate Spade completed suicide, and this morning I awoke to the news of Anthony Bourdain having completed suicide as well. Both of them left behind daughters.

The suicide chain phenomenon is long-known and well-documented at this point. Last year was particularly brutal. A hard blow for the mental health community occurred when Amy Bleuel, the founder of mental health non-profit Project Semicolon and poster child of survival and persistence in the face of crippling depression, completed suicide in March (three years after losing her father to suicide). My generation lost two major musical figures to suicide: Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden, took his life in May, and on his birthday his good friend Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, followed suit. Both of those men left behind children as well. A young man in our community completed suicide soon after, shaking our social group to its core, and sadly his father followed him soon after that, leaving behind a mother and brother who will struggle with that loss the rest of their lives.

The suicide chain is particularly insidious because everyone with these sort of mental health struggles is vulnerable, regardless of their connection to the others. Losing a friend, partner, or family member is more likely to set off a vulnerable person, but the data shows that awareness of any suicide, and especially hyper-awareness due to media coverage or popular media portrayals (like the controversial and dangerous Netflix show 13 Reasons Why), causes widespread increases in suicide attempts and completions among people not connected to the original source. It’s very much like we’re all in this together, and the loss of one of us is a loss to all of us. We all struggle with that loss, and for some, it is the tipping point that spills their pain past the line of what is bearable.

Spade and Bourdain became immensely successful and popular doing exactly what they loved to do, in the ways they wanted to do it. They were game-changing pioneers, living what many of us would consider to be “the dream”. If even they succumbed to the private nightmare of their inner turmoil, what hope do the rest of us peons have just struggling to get by and stuck in situations where we feel we have no control and there is no escape? This is the question every time a major celebrity leaves us this way: how do you maintain hope when those that have EVERYTHING, whose wildest dreams have come to fruition, who have come from nothing and risen to the top, couldn’t maintain their own? If they had everything going for them and everything to live for and it wasn’t enough, how can anything ever be enough?

Mental illness knows no socioeconomic, cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, ideological, or any other sort of boundaries we like to draw in society. We all get tangled in the same web, unwitting victims of a particularly pernicious spider. If you have friends and loved ones that you know are struggling, reach out to them. Make sure they know you value them and you’re there to help them navigate their web. If you are the one struggling, please don’t keep it to yourself; I know, I KNOW, that it’s hard, but I promise that someone will take your hand if you reach it out.

semicolon butterfly

Asking for help
The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.

There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller’s ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

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