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The Problem with Being Great: the Lesson in the Suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

The Deaths of Bourdain and Spade Shed a Light on Society's Ugly Secret

We are witnessing the breakdown of a society that is living their best life. If you were to ask someone what that looks and feels like you'll likely get a response that involves money, traveling (can't Instagram flex without a passport), power, and some variation of sex and love.

With the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, people are speaking on the signs of suicide and the importance of mental health. Spade was a fashion designer, renown for her contribution to jewelry and handbags; was found dead Tuesday morning in her Park Avenue apartment. The billionaire was 55 years old.

Bourdain was a chef, writer, and hosted a variety of food and travel series on the Food Network, Travel Channel, and CNN. At 61 years of age, his body was discovered Friday by his close friend and co-host, Eric Ripert in his hotel room in France. Bourdain was working on a new episode for his show, Parts Unknown.

In the midst of shock, and disbelief many of us are asking, why and how? From the outside, here are two great people with dream lifestyles, no one could ask for more, right?

Perfection Can Be Isolating

When one is perceived to have it all, it’s tough for others to understand that the person may also struggle. As people, we associate hardships with the physical, such as the absence of basic needs or being abused. We often fail to examine the impact that mental and emotional strains and stress has on one's well-being.

It is crucial that society start to value self-care and wellness, as we do money and power. Especially in a time when everyone is a go-getter, money maker, or boss; which also involves being overworked, sleep deprived, and at times, lonely.

For instance, in the recent episode of Jada Pinkett-Smith's Facebook show, Red Table Talk, she openly admitted that it was hard for her to understand that her children (Willow and Jaden) experienced challenges growing up because they had all the things she didn't have as a child. Still, they endured emotional, mental, and spiritual trials on a different level.

Mase said it best, "More money more problems."

With celebrity, popularity, fame, and success come an additional layer of pressure, depression, accountability, and responsibility that can easily take a detour to isolation. Thus, it is crucial that society start to value self-care and wellness, as we do money and power. Especially in a time when everyone is a go-getter, money maker, or boss; which also involves being overworked, sleep deprived, and at times, lonely.

Imagine you're someone who everyone perceives to have to all, including a bag of chips and an Arizona iced tea. It becomes an additional stressor to know if people are there for you, your money or your name.

People are People

There is a misconception of the type of person that struggles with suicide and mental health when in reality it is a symptom of life, and we're all living. Thus, we must take the precautions and care for ourselves, have open conversations, and provide support, so others know that it is okay to feel the way that they do; to give a perspective that helps one separate the temporary from the permanent, and priority from choice.

It can also be discouraging when seeking help or even to accept that one needs help. The doctors can’t “figure out what is going on,” then one has many wonderful things, but continues to feel guilt and shame, furthering the cycle of depression. The fear of stigmatization coupled with the lack of access to services creates a wall between one and mental wellness.

A little over a year ago, a close family member had a mental a breakdown. This family member has a "good life"; including money, a career, and a relationship. When their mental state began to deteriorate, it was not only hard to deal with, but it was difficult to find someone to understand what was going on or adequately diagnose the situation. When we sought services, it was challenging, as most resources were for those who were addicted to drugs, homeless, or a veteran. In addition to rewriting the narrative surrounding mental health, we must provide resources and safe spaces that allow people to heal, while strengthening and building support systems.

Check on Your Strong and "Happy" Friends

When discussing the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and even the current conversation around Kanye West, the common thread is that people are people and we have breaking points. No matter how smart, intellectual, creative, or attractive one may be, everyone has a point in which life can become too much. Without the essential systems or guidance, every one of us is at risk.

During a time when many feel hopeless, helpless, and confused, let’s take this opportunity to acknowledge that we are treating the symptoms and to start addressing the root problem of the popular idea of greatness and genius.

And guess what? You can invoke action today by merely starting the dialog with your family and friends.

Take a moment to reflect: what questions can you pose to those close to you to begin the conversation?

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