Suicide is not about someone wanting to leave their family. It is about them being in so much pain they felt they could not stay.
Trigger warning: The following story discusses a the completed suicide of a celebrity and links to potentially triggering articles. Proceed with caution. If you feel you are at risk and need help, skip the story and get help now. Options include: Calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255), calling 911, and calling a friend or family member to stay with you until emergency medical personnel arrive to help you.
The news of celebrity chef and best-selling author Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide is tragic. He was relatable, he was witty, and he was raw. Bourdain, the host of CNN’s hit show, Anthony Boudain: Parts Unknown, never held back when it came to talking about his struggles with depression, drugs, and staying sober, endearing himself even more to a fanbase that already spanned the globe.
Mental health advocates have routinelycautioned against describing suicide as selfish because it may trigger a vulnerable individual to act. Hollywood actor Val Kilmer, however, seems to give more weight to what a spiritual guide once told him than the warnings of the CDC, the American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Kilmer is now on the receiving end of fan disapproval after publishing a lengthy Facebook post in which he called Bourdain “selfish” for taking himself away from Kilmer and his fans.
“From every corner of the world you were loved. So selfish,” Kilmer wrote. “You’ve given us cause to be so angry.”
It was this spiritual guide, Kilmer says, who once told him a story to explain how “suicide is the most selfish act.”
What Kilmer didn’t realize when he hit publish on this post is exactly how selfish he himself was being by prioritizing his need to publicly call Bourdain out over and above everyone else’s need to avoid triggering suicidal ideations.
Kilmer’s suicide shaming remarks, and those from others who share the same outdated view, are harmful to people who are depressed and vulnerable to suicide contagion.
“Selfishness has nothing to do with it,” says Gigi Griffis, who remembers being so depressed that she wanted to die. When Griffis felt herself being lost to her depression, she remembers thinking the world would be better without her.
“Suicide isn’t something people do to punish those around them…it’s a collection of lies – that you won’t be missed, that you don’t matter, that the world would be a better place without you – that has nothing to do with anyone around you – and everything to do with the depression itself,” Griffis says.
When the brother of bestselling author Rene Denfeld died by suicide in 2005, he left notes for his family members.
“He said he was sorry, he just couldn’t bear life any more,” Denfeld said on twitter. “That’s a tragedy. That’s our collective failure. The pain that killed him is no different than a cancer or illness.”
When the time came to submit the obituary to the local paper, Denfeld was asked to “change his cause of death” due to the paper’s policy of not printing the word “suicide.” Denfeld, determined to honor her brother’s memory with truth, stood her ground.
Denfeld’s focus right now is to remind people who are participating in the online discussions about Spade and Bourdain that insinuating the deceased did not love their survivors is shaming and hurtful. But Kilmer’s comments won’t be on her radar for too long. He’s just one voice. Denfeld would much rather celebrate the progress made in the 13 years since her brother died.
“I come from a family of suicides. Please don’t shame survivors by acting like our loved ones didn’t love us. Suicide is not about someone wanting to leave their family. It is about them being in so much pain they felt they could not stay,” says Denfeld. “A lot has changed, and it’s for the better. We are finally talking about this incredibly common, heart-breaking form of loss. I am thankful for that, because now we can finally sorrow together.”
If you or someone you know may be at risk for suicide, immediately seek help. You are not alone.