Suicide and Celebrity: What Does That Link Mean for Us?

Print icon

Designer Kate Spade is dead at 55. Chef and CNN world traveler Anthony Bourdain is dead at 61.

These are just the latest in a long line of tragic, high-profile deaths by suicide.

Google “celebrity suicide” and the lists are seemingly endless. They stretch back centuries. Included are people whose influence on our collective culture remains strong today: Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway and Marilyn Monroe.

By all outward appearances, celebrities have it all: fame, fortune, talent and power. Yet none of that could save the people on these lists from the ravages of the mental illnesses that ultimately appear to have caused their deaths.

“Depression and suicide do not discriminate,” said James F. O’Dea, PhD, MPH, vice president of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network. “They impact the rich and the poor, the famous and the not so famous, men and women, young and old.”

Perhaps most significant now — in the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Spade and Bourdain — is the significant and continued influence of their celebrity. Bourdain, in particular, was a master communicator, publicly portraying a zest for life and adventure that belied his personal demons of addiction and mental illness.

According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, “Celebrity suicide is a risk factor for suicidal ideation over a short term as well as over a long term.”

What that means can be unfortunate: that even from their graves, these celebrities are telegraphing to large masses of people a dangerous and untrue message: that ending one’s life is a solution to ending mental illness. Kate did it. Robin did it. Marilyn did it. Anthony did it. It must be OK for me, too.

And that’s where some celebrities fail society as a whole: Suicide is NEVER an option. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. The voices — earthly and otherwise — telling you that it is okay to hurt yourself are just plain wrong.

But there is something positive to gain from our grief in the aftermath of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

“Prominent incidents like these give us the chance to talk more about mental health and recovery, and get ahead of the issue,” said Dr. O’Dea.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an immediate mental health crisis, including suicidal ideation, the first step to get help is by calling 9-1-1, or visiting your local hospital emergency department.

Other resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255, and the Crisis Text Line (text the word “HELP” to 741741), as well as an anonymous depression screening available here, and the numerous short-term and long-term recovery options available across Connecticut from the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network.











What's New

Applying Precision Medicine to Treat Your Cancer

As many as 38 out of every 100 women will get cancer in her lifetime – yet there is tremendous hope in the world of cancer research and treatment. Dr. Michael Kane is an expert on treating women’s cancers with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute.  Q: As the charter member...

HPV Vaccine

New HPV Vaccine Offers Some Protection Against Several Cancers

Like many things in science and medicine, the vaccine for the human papilloma virus has evolved. First it was recommended for females age 12 to 26 who had not been sexually active, later for males in the same age group who had not had sex. Recently, however, research prompted the...

This Simple Saliva Test Assesses Breast Cancer Risk

By Meghan Burgess Breast cancer has a particularly high prevalence in Connecticut, but a new program is helping women and men identify their risk of developing the disease – and other cancers – through a simple questionnaire and saliva test. The Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment Program, offered through Hartford HealthCare...

Upcoming Classes and Events in October and November

For a complete list of upcoming classes and events, please visit our Hartford HealthCare Classes and Events page. Upcoming Events Conditions Affecting the Hand Oct. 17 at 6:30pm in Simsbury To register, call 1.855.HHC.HERE or register online Lunch & Learn: Adjusting to Change as a Senior Oct. 18 at 12 noon in Southington To...

Dr. Camelia Lawrence

A ‘Bit of Anxiety’ Over This Physician’s First Mammogram, at 40

Dr. Camelia Lawrence took the proverb “physician, heal thyself” quite seriously when she donned a johnny recently and stepped up to a machine in The Hospital of Central Connecticut radiology suite in Plainville recently for her first screening mammogram. She just turned 40 and, as director of breast surgery for...

“Hidden Scar” Surgery: Making a Difference for Breast Cancer Patients

Breast surgeons at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital are performing a revolutionary procedure that allows them to do specific types of breast cancer surgery without leaving visible marks. Dr. Heather King is a breast surgeon with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute to describe how this technique is...