Op-Ed: Suicides of Bourdain, Spade remind us troubles many face

As last week’s entry showed – and as I know far too many of you can understand – last week’s suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade shook me. Celebrity suicides always do. But, sadly, we know that the suicide contagion effect is real. I wanted to try to do something to stop it.

My local paper, the Morning Call, was kind enough to let me write this op-ed. I’m copying the text below, but if you can click on the link, please do.

We all have to speak up about this issue if we’re going to do anything about it.

When I opened Facebook on Friday morning, there was one sentence that I kept seeing, over and over again: “Not Anthony Bourdain!”

On Tuesday, it was: “Not Kate Spade!”

The death of two people who seemed to have it all was exceptionally tragic in and of itself. Unfortunately, the problem is so much more severe than that.

There is something particularly painful about suicide. Thankfully, most of you cannot fathom how someone could kill themselves, and that is a blessing.

But, please remember: Suicide and mental illness are disconnected from reality. People like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade seemed to have it all. But if you have some sort of mental illness, your brain and your heart may not recognize happiness or joy. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much joy you may seem to have — if you are mentally ill, your brain will not enjoy a life that “should be happy.”

Unfortunately, there is a suicide contagion affect: People are more likely to kill themselves after a high-profile suicide, and that risk is heightened among similar demographic groups. This may be a very dangerous time for people who face an increased risk of suicide.

To those of you who view suicide as an option, allow me a few words. They come from times in my life where I was so depressed I viewed suicide as an option. Give me the chance to talk to you as someone who spent hundreds of hours I’ve spent in therapy and takes anti-depressants to start every morning.

I beg you: Please remember that there is more than the pain of this moment. It’s a cliché, but it’s accurate: Suicide is a permanent end to a temporary problem.

I’ve written about this in The Morning Call before, but it’s worth telling you about my personal story again. My own suicidal moments came in college. I was a new student and scared out of my mind. I barely had any friends and I had been torn from everything I knew and loved. A bad roll of the dice in terms of genetics already predisposed me to depression, and I began to sink. I began to sink so badly that thoughts and plans of suicide began to float around in my battered brain.

Thankfully, I recognized I had a problem. I sought counseling and medication. Depression is part of my story. It always will be. I have struggled, but I have survived.

I am using myself to make a point. I was driving the other day, thoughts wondering, and my mind drifted back to this low point in my life. I was struck by this sudden realization: What would have happened if I had killed myself 17 years ago?

The answer is simple: My family and my closest friends would have been left with a hole in their heart, one which would have never really healed. Meanwhile, someone else would have lived my life, married my wife, had my kids. Someone else would have had the jobs I’ve worked and be representing the people of the 132nd District. Everything that should have been mine would be lived and loved by someone else.

And I was struck by what a waste that would have been. And what a tragedy. Choosing to end my life would have been an especially premature decision. My life is not free of pain, but by and large, it’s a good one. I wake up every day grateful for the decision I didn’t make.

I’ve had access to the treatment that I need. Everyone should be as fortunate.

Suicide is not an isolated problem. There were 45,000 suicides in 2016 in the United States — more than twice the number of homicides. That’s roughly 123 a day. Five an hour. One every 12 minutes.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-34. In Pennsylvania, it’s increased 34 percent since 1999. In Lehigh County, we’re losing roughly one person a week to suicide.

The money we spend in this area means something. Repealing Obamacare would have cut off mental health care access to millions of Americans and unquestionably increased suicide rates. We have a major mental health care practitioner shortage in this country. Millions upon millions of Americans cannot afford their prescription drugs. These things matter.

But I’m tired of hearing elected officials say that mental health matters. Don’t show me your words, show me your budget. Show me what programs you are creating to address suicide. Show me how you are dealing with the suicide among veterans and first responders. Show me what programs you are funding to ensure that we are caring for all Americans, no matter what they look like, where they come from and how wealthy they are.

Don’t give me your thoughts and prayers. Give me the money and the means to actually stop suicide.

To those who are afraid — to those who are anxious, addicted or alone — please know that there is hope. You may not be able to feel it, see it or believe it. But I suppose I am asking you to have faith — faith in yourself, in God, and in those who love you now or will love you in the future. As my own story exemplifies, there is always a reason to live, even if you may not know it at the time. As long as you breathe, you have hope.

Mike Schlossberg of Allentown is state representative from the 132nd District. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255; in Spanish, 888-628-9454; for the deaf and hard of hearing, 800-799-4889; or by text, 741741.

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