Robin Williams. Chester Bennington. And now Anthony Bourdain too. He was 61.
By now, you’ve likely heard the news about the celebrated chef and popular TV host. CNN is reporting that Anthony Bourdain has died of an apparent suicide and fans all around the world are grieving. He was an inspiration for many of us, particularly those of us who are especially enamored with food and travel and culture. Bourdain understood as well as anyone that food is culture, and he was just as ecstatic about chowing down on a humble street food as he was indulging in the elevated cuisine of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Good food is good food, whether it arrives in a paper wrapper to be eaten by hand or on fine china to be delicately served with the fanciest of silverware. The thing that I’ve always admired most about Anthony Bourdain is his no nonsense attitude. He always shot straight from the hip and you knew that you were always getting the authentic Tony. He said what he meant and he meant what he said.
But here’s the insidious thing about depression and anxiety. And about mental health in general. It’s hidden. It’s largely invisible. And it doesn’t always align with the objective reality of the situation. You can be rich and famous and otherwise healthy, but you could also be battling all sorts of demons. Whereas those around you may see a happy, cheerful, and fulfilling life, you may question whether those around you would be better off if you weren’t around.
I don’t claim to be going through the same kinds of struggles that Anthony Bourdain may have faced, and I most certainly have not achieved the same kind of success that he did, but I can relate. While I oftentimes feel like I’m not enough or that I could do so much better, I’ve been told that I’ve got it made. While I am grateful that I can work from home and eke out a middle class existence, I can also feel like a failure. I know all too well what that feels like.
Whenever celebrity stories like this hit the news, it can feel like they come out of left field. Social media becomes awash with well-intentioned posts, encouraging those struggling with depression and contemplating suicide to “reach out” and “get help” before it’s too late. They’ll post crisis line numbers and say they’re available to listen if you want to talk. They mean well.
The tremendous hurdle, the one so often overlooked, is that people who are suffering from depression can retreat into themselves. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable, because there is still such a social stigma around the issue. Maybe they don’t want to burden those around them, because they already feel like they are a burden to them. They don’t reach out for help, because perhaps they feel undeserving of the help.
But you can help. If you see someone struggling, reach out and ask if they’d like to go out for a cup of coffee. Ask if there is anything you can do. And reach out to your friends who appear to be strong and have everything under control. The truth is we all have our demons. We all have our challenges. And sometimes the people who need our help the most are also those who are least likely to ask for it.