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

Wallingford Endoscopy Center Opens

Endoscopy Center Opens in Wallingford

The Wallingford Endoscopy Center, an 8,533- square-foot space dedicated to gastroenterology procedures, has opened in Wallingford. The center, a joint venture between Hartford HealthCare, Connecticut GI and MidState Gastroenterology Specialists, offers upper endoscopies and colonoscopies in the new facility. “Patients in need of gastrointestinal procedures will find the best care...

What is Inpatient Rehabilitation?

A new inpatient rehabilitation unit opened at Hartford Hospital recently. It’s a 26-bed unit that specializes in physical, occupational and speech therapy for patients who have suffered a major illness or injury. Dr. Maria Tsarouhas of the Hartford Hospital In-Patient Rehabilitation Unit has details on what that means.  Q: This unit opened...

Apple Watch and AFib

Why Heart Patients Shouldn’t Use Apple Watch to Detect AFib

Seems that the Apple smartwatch can do it all – check email, send an SOS, connect to your car, get directions, open your garage door and order a pizza — but checking your heartbeat for atrial fibrillation might not make sense. Dr. Steven Zweibel, director of electrophysiology at the Hartford...

Hartford HealthCare Increases Minimum Hourly Rate to $15

More than 2,400 employees to benefit from increase, effective March 31 Hartford HealthCare today (Monday, 1/14) announced it will increase its minimum hourly rate to $15, effective March 31, 2019. The new pay rate will directly benefit more than 2,400 of Hartford HealthCare’s approximately 20,000 employees throughout Connecticut. These employees...

GoHealth interior.

Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care Center Opens in Torrington

Newly constructed Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care center will replace Charlotte Hungerford Hospital’s former urgent care walk-in center, less than a mile away. GoHealth Urgent Care, one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing urgent care companies, together with its partner Hartford HealthCare, Connecticut’s most comprehensive healthcare network and an affiliate of...

Why Does My Neck Hurt? (It Could Be a Pinched Nerve)

When is neck pain a serious issue? When it’s a pinched nerve, according to Dr. Joel Bauman, chief of neurosurgery at the Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute at MidState Medical Center. Q: What is a pinched nerve? A: A pinched nerve is when there is an injury, usually in the disk, which...

Prostate Cancer Relationships

ED, Incontinence After Prostate Surgery: What Can a Partner Do?

This is the first of a two-part series on the effects of prostate cancer on relationships. Ask any prostate cancer survivor and he’ll tell you there’s no price he wouldn’t pay to be cancer-free. Let’s start with the surest way to cure prostate cancer when the disease hasn’t spread: Removal...