Robin Williams. Chris Cornell. Chester Bennington.
And now, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
This list is only a sample of the celebrities who have died by suicide in the recent past. Upon hearing the news in each case, everyone – including close friends and family, not just fans – shared a sense of complete shock. No one seemed to know these people were suffering so profoundly that they would choose to end their life in order to stop the pain.
How could this be possible?
I believe that each of these celebrity suicides, and indeed many of the one million people who die by suicide each year (see below), share a common thread. Regardless of the mental illness, addiction or life challenge each person was facing, it seems they all were unwilling or unable to speak openly about it – which meant they didn’t seek help.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds.
What keeps people who are suffering and in pain, to the point of considering ending their life, from reaching out to those around them for help? What prevents them from talking about what they are going through?
I believe the answer is stigma, and the paralyzing fear of the judgement and lack of empathy that comes with it.
The lesson we can all learn from the recent celebrity suicides is that if we are in pain, if we are lost, if depression or anxiety or any other mental illness is overwhelming us, help is available if we ask.
One of the most important and effective ways to reduce the rate of suicide is to shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness. We must destroy the judgement and confusion that keeps people from seeking help. We must TALK to each other when we are suffering, and ASK for help. These steps can, and I believe will, save lives.
These thoughts are not educated guesses. I have been there. When I was suffering from severe depression, hypomania and mania in 2002-2005, I had no idea what was wrong with me. I was completely frozen with self-stigma and fear that others felt the same. For a long while, I wasn’t seeking any help and only spoke to my fiancee about what I was going through.
Without her support, and without my eventual realization that I was suffering from an illness, which wasn’t my fault, and I needed help, I doubt I would have been able to survive many more cycles of depression and mania. So I started talking, and I sought help. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and given treatment. Slowly, I began to recover, manage my illness and live well.
But none of those things would have happened if I had remained trapped by stigma.
I founded stigmaZERO to help employers address the complex and challenging reality of mental illness stigma. I offer clients impactful and eye-opening keynote lectures as well as our innovative stigmaZERO Workplace Program.
The stigmaZERO Workpace Program has a top-down methodology which has been carefully designed to ensure maximum impact. In order for workshops with employees to be effective, they must know their managers and senior leadership are already committed to a stigmaZERO workplace.
If you would like to learn more about how our unique services can create real, lasting impact on your company’s ability to manage mental illness and stigma, contact me for a free consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit my website at www.stigmazero.com.
Founder & Stigma Expert