mental health

Anthony Bourdain’s Death: The Ongoing Fight Against Suicide and Depression (sometimes it’s not about the stigma)

Tea? Or Coffee? That was this morning’s dilemma after my routine 6 am workout at the gym. I pulled into the local Starbucks on Queen’s street in Port Moody and must have spent nearly 5 minutes out of my morning wrestling in my mind what beverage I wanted to start my work day with. Did I want something lighter and refreshing, like a green tea that’s chock full of antioxidants? Or did I want something with more body and boldness like a good old fashioned cup of Joe?

Tea? Or Coffee?

Tough problem to have. Whatever choice I made could determine how my morning will turn out. Or if my day turns out to be a hell ride, I can always look back and blame it on my poor beverage choice.

Tea? Or Coffee?

After an uneventful drive into work, I stepped into my office and took a delightful sip out of my morning drink. I punched in my password and logged onto my computer to kick off another workday with a routine glance through the news and current events.

My eyes popped wide open, not because of the caffeine kick, but because of this staggering headline:

Anthony Bourdain’s death is one in a growing public health tragedy

What?! Famous chef, author and TV host, Anthony Bourdain, dead? How is this even possible? I immediately read further on to sadly discover that Mr Bourdain had tragically taken his own life.

I enjoyed watching his TV shows on world travel and rare eats in dives and places where only locals would venture into, and tourists would stay away from like vampires near a cathedral. His non-pretentious way of feasting and his casual demeanor displayed a sense of humility as he not only got to know the food he was eating, but he dug deep into the soul of those who prepared the meals with empathy, innate curiosity and unrivaled passion.

I continued to see numerous posts and tweets about Mr Bourdain’s sudden death and how critical it is to promote mental health awareness, especially in men. One statistic I read is that 76% of all suicides are by men, with suicide being the number one cause of death in men under the age of 35. An astonishing and disturbing stat, especially when I thought about the number of family members, friends and colleagues I know under that young age.

And like myself, many of the posts invite men to start talking about our struggles; to not feel ashamed of our depression and to not “man-up” by keeping quiet about our depressive episodes. Talking about our struggles is one of the most powerful ways to end the stigma of depression in men.

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Later on the day, while driving home from work I continued to think about all the posts encouraging men to talk about their problems and to not feel ashamed. Suddenly it occurred to me, what if the problem isn’t that men are afraid to talk about their problems because of judgement and stigma? What if we’re looking at this from too narrow a viewpoint that men are mainly afraid to talk because it demonstrates weakness? What if that isn’t the case? What if it’s just a simpler explanation why men don’t talk about their struggles?

What if men are just not physiologically talkers?

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In the last two weeks, I’ve admittedly been feeling a little depressed. I still continued to go to the gym every morning and grunted my burpees away. I still continued to go to work and put in every effort to get the job done. I still made it home, played basketball with my son and prepared dinner every night. Yet, I still felt a little down.

But I never told anyone about how low I was feeling (not until today). Today I thought about the reasons why I didn’t call up my friends to chat, or text my counsellor to discuss how I was feeling. It wasn’t because I felt any sense of shame or stigma (because everyone who knows me, also knows that I’m not afraid to talk about my depression). I simply did not feel like talking about how depressed I’ve been.

And for all the talkers out there who might be scratching their heads trying to understand this, let me try with a few metaphors: It’s like forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry. Or trying to fall asleep because it’s late, but you’re not tired. I was feeling depressed but I just didn’t feel like talking.

Perhaps the introvert in me contributed to that. Perhaps how I was brought up not to talk about my problems was also a contributing factor. All I know is that talking about my depression wasn’t something I was motivated to do in recent weeks.

Then I went into solutions mode.

So if the problem isn’t so much about the stigma of talking, and is more physiological, then how do I manage it in such a way that doesn’t leave me stuck in that hole of depression?

For me, it came down to a few things that I recommend  to others who simply don’t feel like talking:

Number One: Self-awareness. I was aware of my feelings of depression (low energy level, not as talkative, feeling unmotivated to spend time with friends and headaches). Pay attention to feelings of depression and know when you’re feeling lower than average.

Number Two: Keep busy. I still recognized that I had responsibilities to fulfill. I needed to go to work to finish my project. My son asked me to play basketball and I rarely turn him down. All these things kept me distracted from feeling the heaviness of depression and to not feel so isolated.

Number Three: Self-talk. If I don’t feel like talking to others about my problems, talking to myself can be very effective. This may feel awkward for some, but for me, it’s perfectly comfortable to talk to myself at home or while driving. The self-talk conversation might sound something like this: “I’m feeling a little blue and depressed these days and I don’t know why. Sigh…maybe it’s because of (list out some possibilities). I feel low in energy and motivation…boy, a nice vacation or a good weekend of doing nothing would be nice.” And the self-talk might continue on a bit more, but it’s never a judging tone or negative vibe. I typically feel much better afterwards.

Number Four: Set small goals. I wanted to wake up at 5 am to go to the gym. Check. I wanted to brush my teeth. Check. I needed to feed my cat and change her litter box. Check. I told my friends at bootcamp that I’d be at the gym which kept me accountable and around people. Check.

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It’s a sad loss today for those who followed Mr Bourdain but I also want to honor those who have taken their own lives and aren’t recognized in the media. Too many lives are lost due to suicide and depression, and there certainly isn’t one simple solution that’s going to end this growing concern.

However, promoting good healthy communication, goal-setting, learning about self-awareness and being around others is certainly a step in the right direction.

If you’re in need of help and have thoughts of suicide please contact the following numbers:

Lifeline (US): 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

British Columbia Suicide Helpline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

 

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Jason Lee, Author of Living with the Dragon. Photo by Kristi MacFarlane Photography.

 

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