Within three days two prominent personalities, who appeared to have success, wealth, and love have killed themselves. The cultural environment in the United States in 2018 has encouraged the man/woman on the street to believe that if one has gained these three qualities that life will be simply and unquestionably superb. Those with that belief are buying into a myth. They are allowing themselves to be mislead.
The number of annual deaths by suicide in the United States has grown from 38,000 in 2010 to 45,000 as of 2016. Theories abound as to cause. One conviction that is accepted universally is that there is a strong link between the use of alcohol and successful self-destruction. This bears looking into.
On Tuesday, June 5, 2018 designer and lifestyle influencer Kate Spade hung herself in her beautiful Park Avenue apartment. She was 55. There are conflicting reports as to Mrs. Spade’s use of alcohol. There is no question that she has suffered from depression for years.
On Friday, June 8, 2018 Anthony Bourdain, master chef, raconteur, and adventurer hung himself in the quaint French village of Kaysersberg in the Alsace region. He was staying at the luxurious Le Chambard Hotel when he abandoned his will to live at the age of 61. Bourdain, a self -confessed drug addict claimed to have “kicked” his addictions to heroin, cocaine and crack by the time of his daughter’s birth in 2007. Publicly, he indulged in his fair share of alcohol consumption. Bourdain also suffered from depression.
Both Spade and Bourdain left behind daughters, ages 13 and 11 respectively. Each of them were devoted to their only offspring.
Depression is often a hidden silent assassin. The shame that has been attached to mental illness keeps many sufferers from seeking help. Those who have fallen into the dark hole of depression often see no hope for the future. At the nadir of their affliction they do not believe that they ever experienced s life that was not painful.
Alcohol is legal, affordable and offers an immediate effect. For those seeking respite from persistent feelings of loneliness and cripplingly poor self-esteem, the almost instant relief from pain and the initial mood boost are irresistible. Sadly, it will also slam them back down. Individuals who are living with the unbearable wound of chronic depression do not remember, or believe, that anyone finds them to be of value. Often, they are quite sure that they are a burden to those they love and believe that significant others would be better off without them.
A major flaw in the alcohol solution is that alcohol is a DEPRESSANT. A stiff price is extracted physically and, more catastrophically, emotionally. Those who depend on alcohol regularly experience loss of memory, impaired judgment, and shame. It has been estimated that 30 - 50% of alcohol-dependent people suffer from severe depression.
Researchers have found that those who turn to alcohol are likely to have a continuous negative dialogue going on in their heads. Some refer to this as “monkey chatter”. Some would call this the Super Ego. Regardless of the term, the harsh, judgmental voice that finds fault with behavior, consequential and insignificant, has the power to effectively destroy self-esteem. The moments of relief brought by alcohol are followed by hours of remorse and deep shame.
It doesn’t matter which came first — the alcohol dependency or the depression — the combination is lethal. Reports contend that there is a 30%correlation between suicide and the heavy use of alcohol.
Why do seemingly successful people fall prey to intense feelings of unworthiness? It is grueling to maintain a very high level of success. There is self-imposed pressure to compete with oneself. The term “depressogenic” has been coined for those who cannot refrain from looking up the ladder.
Many individuals who have reached great heights of accomplishment do not have the know how or stability to accept the actuality that no one stays on top forever. Everything changes. Those who are “caught” in stardom often feel like failures when their star slips. Many feel like failures who have, somehow, lost their dazzle. In an effort to avoid painful feelings of decline, it is not unusual to search for something to numb the ache. When the sedative of choice is alcohol, drugs, or habits that become destructive, the fall from “grace” accelerates and the depression deepens.
As with Spade and Bourdain, so-called superstars can feel obligated to be as content with their lives as the public believes they either are or should be. This compels the superstar to don a mask which removes him/her from their authentic selves. Psychologists understand that the more the “inside” and “outside” of a person line up the greater the sense of equanimity. This balance is called synchronicity. Those who feel obliged to disguise their true selves inescapably develop a sense of fraudulence. This point of view results in a feeling of isolation.
Those who feel isolated from the world will, in time, find themselves in psychic distress. Even those who announce that they don’t care what others think of them are in danger. The “don’t cares” are in denial of the basic human need for connection. While a true sense of self-acceptance must bloom on the inside, it is encounters with others (particularly in the early stages of development) that instruct us as to who we are and what is our rightful place in the cosmos.
Harsh judgments that are internalized can be reversed. In order for that to happen, the individual must communicate — preferably in person — the contorted self-beliefs that are held. It takes courage to expose oneself in this way, and, if the need to please is too intense, negative self thoughts will remain hidden.
There are no simple solutions to the problem of the rising number of suicides. Yes, there is the suicide hotline, but the call must be made. There are therapists who work with individuals, families and groups, but the appointment must be scheduled. A focus on open discussion will, hopefully, lead to decreased shame for all involved. There was a time when “polite” people would not say “cancer” aloud. It was as if saying it would make it happen. The same holds true for the tragedy of suicide. The yearning for escape does not grow by engaging in the conversation.
There will not be a single answer to the dilemma. Somehow, those at risk must be able to believe that there is hope for a better future. Perhaps that is where the research must go. How does one instill optimism in those who feel defeated? This is an avenue that needs further exploration. Lives depend on it.