Depression, Suicide, and Celebrities

I awoke today to the news that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, and the rest of my day was ruined.

I had never met Mr. Bourdain, nor did I watch his shows avidly. I caught a few episodes here and there. I had no other connection to him at all, but his death sparked a wave of melancholy over me that has yet to dissipate even as I write this. I’ve spent the better part of the day attempting to discover why this has affected me so much. Social media hasn’t helped, either, as many people I follow were dedicated fans and are taking his death hard.

I haven’t come up with a sufficient answer to my question, but I have spent most of my day ruminating on my own struggles with depression and the suicidal thoughts I’ve had in the past. I have been dealing with depression since my senior year in high school. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time, and in hindsight, I wish I would’ve known how to recognize that I needed help. Instead, my grades slipped, I withdrew socially, and after the sudden death of my father, I packed up and tried to run away from my problems. It didn’t help.

One of the common motifs of depression, and one that has plagued me for years, is the feeling of utter worthlessness one endures when depression takes hold. This feeling alone has prompted dozens of suicidal thoughts in my own head. But with celebrities, particularly Bourdain, is that their worth to the world is seemingly quantifiable. Bourdain had millions of fans, sold numerous books, had hit TV shows, and fought for social justice causes his entire career. But none of it was enough to beat that feeling.

I’m not presuming that Bourdain killed himself solely because of the feelings of worthlessness, but I’m willing to bet they were a prominent fixture in his mind. Anyone with depression can tell you that worthless feelings come in the Depression Starter Kit. If making such a positive impact on the world and everyone around him couldn’t keep him from ending it all, what chance do I have? I’m just a fat nerd living in Georgia, working two part time jobs, and is for the most part unrecognizable from anyone else in public.

The answer is that regardless of one’s perceived effect on the world and those around them, every person has people that love them, look up to them, and find them interesting and attractive. Every person has some effect on the world around them, even if it’s not perceivable by the person. A person’s worth is not measured in dollars, units sold, or viewers retained. A person’s worth is measured by how many peoples’ lives are made better simply by them existing. No effort needed, no goods needing produced. All human life has innate value, no matter what Republicans or one’s brain tells them.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that I am worth something. It took some truly selfless and dedicated family members and friends to show me that I am worth something to them. My inner voice constantly berates me for accepting help from them, telling me that I’m taking advantage of them and that they will hate me for it in the future. The truth is that if they didn’t think I was worth anything, they wouldn’t offer to help.

Celebrity suicides due to depression are hard to take because the celebrity presumably had every resource available to them to get help, but their brain wouldn’t let them. This is the power that depression has over its victims. It can make those who have it all think they have nothing. No amount of convincing otherwise can stop it. Nothing can match its ruthless efficiency.

If you have taken Anthony Bourdain’s death hard, remember that he was one of the good ones. We as a civilization benefited from his existence and work and we can enjoy it for years to come. But please keep in mind that even he couldn’t beat the monster that is depression. If you suffer as well, please see someone. Talk to someone. Find someone you trust and that will respect you and listen. And for those who don’t suffer, be a friend and listen to those around you that need a helping hand, an empathetic ear, and a comfortable shoulder to cry on. Show them that they are worth something to you. It’s the only way they’ll be able to beat back the shadow.