Micheal Jackson (gone too soon), Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon.
Prince, Bowie, and Alan Rickman (Snape!).
Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain (…really… not him too!), and …. to be determined.
They say celebrities die in threes. (1) But, what is most concerning about this year’s series of tragic celebrity death is not just the losses, but the manner in which we lost them:
How can we, the lowly masses, be made to understand how those who seem to have the world at their feet come to the decision to end their lives? I am not standing in a place of judgement of their decision, and my hearts go out to their families as they try to make sense of this. But, I do draw attention to the manner in which we lost them because there is a growing trend of suicide, not only among celebrities, but for everyone in the united states.
In fact, between 1996 and 2016, suicide rates have increased in nearly every state with half of the states seeing rates go up more than 30 percent. Based on these disturbing trends, Suicide has become a major public health issue, accounting for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone. (2) When we reflect on the present crises in the media, terrorism, school shootings, etc., the numbers of all of these forces combined do not come close to the magnitude of loss by suicide in this country. Not to down play the very real and terrible aforementioned crises, but it is confusing and frustrating that the common thread of access to mental health resources fails to be as apparent to everyone as it is me (and many other healthcare scholars).
Perhaps, the problem is exasperated by the way in which we tell these stories. Every one of these incidents in recounted as an isolated incident … the shooter is described as a loner … before they joined the terrorist organization, they were seen as an outcast … she must have been having relationship issues … if only someone was kinder to him … if only they knew how much we cared about them. All of these feelings and rationalizations are valid. But they are all flawed as well. These rationalizations are trying to make sense of irrational behaviors made by broken minds using rational working minds.
We will never know why they did what they did. We lack the necessary equipment to empathize with a mind in need of care, with a psyche in need of intervention. The necessary equipment for empathy, for compassion, is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. I have never had suicidal thoughts, neither have I had terroristic thoughts. I’ve been sad, and I’ve been angry and alone. But, those feelings, those emotions passed with time.The other fallacy is that we try to rationalize these behaviors with narratives that make sense to us. “I wonder what happened to push them over the edge.”
For these poor tortured souls, those feelings persist and the emotions don’t get better with time and they don’t align with what is happening in their lives. I do not know what it is to feel sad when I know I should be happy. Or vice versa. How then, can I feign to understand what drives one to do these things? How pompous and self-serving. Rather than trying to comfort ourselves with stories that feel good to us, we could try to understand what interventions could have helped someone who is having these thoughts from going through with these actions.
There are suicide prevention lines: 1-800-273-8255
Available nationwide, 24/7.
And it’s important to recognize that these lines can help a great deal. It is also important to recognize that it will take more than a phone call to work through these issues and to get honest, preventative mental health. We need more resources. But, we won’t get more resources until we start forcing the powers that be to stop fictionalizing narratives to sane-splain mental health disorder behaviors.
This country is in dire need for mental health reform, both in terms of culture and infrastructure.