I woke up to the news of Anthony Bourdain this morning, on the heels of Kate Spade’s death by suicide this week. I’m shaken, but I know there is work to be done.
Celebrity suicide is a bit different to us from everyday-people suicide, because we make lots of assumptions about celebrities. Many of us wish that we were celebrities, because the glamour that we see of their lives – money, travel, pretty pictures, and success – seems to fit the idea that they “have it all.” What could they have possibly been so down about that they wanted to die?
Photo from CNN
We know what we read in the news and tabloids, or what we see on their social media accounts, so we make assumptions about who is and isn’t troubled. Who is or isn’t “making it.” Who is having a breakdown at this moment. Who is on drugs. Who got kicked off of the set. Who is on the Forbes list. Whose show has amazing ratings. Whose show got cancelled this week. Who is hooking up with who. Who has a new project coming up. Who is getting married. Who is friends with who else. Who was spotted at what boutique. Who got arrested. Who is having a baby – and with who else.
The pedestals that we put celebrities on make them so far out-of-reach that we often don’t even think of them as people. We cast judgement on their personal lives, on their work, and on everything that we believe we know about how they think and feel.
But those pedestals aren’t all that different from the level that we raise other people that we know from what we see on their social media accounts.
In taking time to talk to people offline, you very quickly begin to realize that social media isn’t the most accurate view of the life that someone is living. And this is quite similar to the news-worthy headlines that we see about the lives of celebrities – they don’t ever take into account the day-to-day struggle that humans have with decision making, stress, time management, relationships, and money (because yeah, even celebrities struggle with money, ya’ll).
This very week, a study from the CDC came out stating that the suicide rate in every single state is increasing. In my state – South Carolina – the overall increase was 38.3%. The report states that “slightly more than half of people who committed suicide did not have a known mental health problem.”
Keeping in mind that not having a known problem is not necessarily the same as not having a mental health problem – it means there is a possibility that they never sought help and therefore were not diagnosed.
What is happening to us?
Over the years that this number has changed, our world has begun to feel like it is spinning a lot faster, with technology bringing immediate gratification to our fingertips. The 24/7 news cycle shows us death and destruction on an intense scale, with breaking news alerts with death tolls popping up on our phones while we are at our kids’ soccer practice.
It can be difficult to get away from it.
But we try to.
Unfortunately, instead of isolating ourselves from the news, and from our devices – or from our online shopping accounts and social media lives, we have begun to choose to isolate ourselves from real, actual people – the very thing that we need more of to ground us in reality.
We stay in our homes instead of going to the department stores. We text instead of hearing someone’s voice. We send Facebook messages to say happy birthday.
We see an increase in social anxiety because people begin to believe that social media is real life – and that they aren’t good enough for it – or don’t fit – in that world.
With every app that we download, there is an increase in notifications that pop up, interrupting the small amounts of real connection opportunities that we have – with our families, our coworkers, our friends.
Ya’ll, I am not immune to any of this, so this is coming from an awareness of someone who preaches connection but knows that there is a lot of work to do.
There is nothing wrong with these technologies if they are used appropriately, and in a healthy manner that doesn’t interrupt the relationships that we have – or could have – and doesn’t impact the way that we feel about ourselves and the world around us.
But in most cases, that’s not how we are using them. That’s not how we are taught to use them.
Just like celebrities – we think that we know everything about the people around us because we see the pictures on social media. We see their updates – so we feel as if we know them. We make judgements of the way that people are living their lives – and the way we are living ours – because of a captioned photo.
But there is so much more to people than what you see on the internet, or in a tabloid, or on the news.
What can we do?
While technology is just one facet of our lives that contributes to this issue, it is also one that we can do something about starting right now, today. There are really simple ways to increase your connection to your community, your family, your friends – right now.
Plug back into the real world. Set limits on your device usage – but don’t just disconnect and stare at the wall restlessly. Call friends instead of texting. Meet people in person. Go outside and play – just like you tell your kids to! Walk around your neighborhood and talk to your neighbors. Set up a small community event (raise money for suicide prevention efforts at your event – double bonus). Join a club of some sort. Participate in a meet-up. Volunteer for a cause.
All of these things, while small, are at this point more uncomfortable than they sound for most of us, because they are so far outside of the isolation that we’ve built in around us. If you already do some of those, that’s great – try to add something else. We have the time for it, if we decrease the time that we spend doing mindless things that secure us in our isolation.
Are you struggling with thoughts of suicide? Please reach out, get connected, and find the support you need. Contact the National Suicide Helpline at 1-800-273-8255. Call and get connected with mental health resources in your area. Call someone - a friend, acquaintance, or family member - and just be heard. There is help out there, and you are not alone.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.