Suicide is a complex mental health challenge


This past week two celebrities died by suicide. All of us were shocked to hear this sad news because it seemed by all appearances they were living exciting and successful lives.

Anthony Bourdain died at the age of 61. He was a renowned chef and a great storyteller and a gifted author. His daughter is only 11 years of age.

Kate Spade, a creative designer of women’s hand bags and a businesswoman, died at the age of 55. She left behind a husband and 13-year-old daughter.

Both were close in age to the highest rates of suicide in their respective genders. The highest rate of suicide for women is between the ages of 45 and 55. For men the highest rates of suicide is for those who are 65 and over.

Sadly, suicide is a mental health crisis in our country. Suicide is on the increase in our country. There is a 25 percent increase over the last 20 years. It is the 10th leading cause of deaths in our country. Something like 20 veterans die daily by suicide. Some suicides are planned and others are impulsive.

Psychiatrists and psychologists will claim that suicide often is the result of many complex factors. It can be a response to depression and anxiety; feelings of hopelessness and feelings of helplessness; real or perceived loss; stress and substance abuse. Eventually the pre-frontal cortex gets off line and poor judgments can be made.

Relational problems and marital conflict and physical health issues can also contribute to suicide risk. Pressure and stress related to job security and housing challenges are sometimes difficult warning signs to detect.

Suicide can happen to anyone. Suicide is no respecter of age or race; of faith or nationality; of life experiences or socio-economic level. Power, prestige and possessions alone are not able to prevent the downward spiral that often leads to suicide. We need so much more in the long term to experience purpose, meaning and fulfillment.

It would seem Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade had prestige and success in their lives. Their public selves were impressing the world. But their inner selves were in great pain. Few knew about their inner-conflicts. Who knew the size of the inner battles they were fighting?

Both were impressive. Both had impressive careers. Both had amassed great wealth. Yet, it did not mean they had no inner struggles. Mental health does not discriminate, even if you have status and a great career and much wealth.

So, if you see personality changes in someone — say something. If you see a person expressing lots of feelings of hopelessness and helplessness — say something. If you see a person in great despair and agitation — say something. There is help out there for all of us.

Msgr. Thomas J. Morgan is a retired pastor and certified family counselor.