By Jayson Blair
I woke up late in the morning. It was a little after 7 a.m. I have been sick for the past few days, so I decided to not rush into work. I made a cup of coffee in my kitchen and then walked over to the living room. Standing between the couch and my glass coffee table, I tapped each remote and turned on CNN.
I walked away from the TV. Before I made it to it to the bathroom, I heard Alisyn Camerota, the CNN anchor, say the words “… in an apparent suicide.” I turned back to the screen. I burst into tears.
|Kate Spade, the fashion designer, poses with her iconic bags.|
Another one lost to what Andrew Solomon, the noted author, calls “the Noonday Demon.”
The night before her death, The New York Post reported that Spade, spoke with her father happily about planning a trip to California to look at colleges with her daughter.
Their deaths came in the same week that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide rates, defying prevention efforts, rose 25 percent between 1999 and 2006. More people die from committing violence upon themselves in the form of suicide than homicide and war combined.
In the days that followed the deaths of Spade and Bourdain, countless people spoke of the good moods both Bourdain and Spade were in during the days and weeks before their deaths, the bold plans for the future they discussed and lack of visible signs of suicidal ideation. In retrospect, however, the signs were all over like falling cherry petals on a Spring day.
Bourdain told the world in his book “Medium Raw” that after his first marriage ended in 2005 that he was “aimless and regularly suicidal.” He wrote of a time in the Caribbean where he was drinking and using drugs, driving recklessly each day and visiting brothels each night.
The only known accurate predictor of suicide is previous attempts. But, Kay Redfield Jamison, the eminent author and psychologist who lives with bipolar disorder, notes in her book on suicide, called “Night Falls Fast,” that suicide usually requires “multiple hits” in the form of some combination of a biological predisposition, major psychiatric illness and an acute life stress.
No doubt, some people try to conceal their plans for suicide, but Jamison notes that “most who commit suicide explicitly, and, often, repeatedly, communicate their intentions to kill themselves to others.”
Both Bourdain and Spade presenting with and acknowledged having major psychiatric illness, and each were encountering acute stress. For Bourdain, it was in the form of a grueling travel schedule at the same time his girlfriend was pictured on social media holding hands and embracing another man in France. For Spade, she was going through a difficult divorce.
There are contradictory reports about whether Spade, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Bourdain, who lived with depression, were being treated for their illnesses at the time of their deaths. Having a major psychiatric illness and stopping or never being treated, is another risk factor.
As someone who has both professionally and as a volunteer helped individuals who eventually committed suicide, who has lost friends and colleagues to suicide and who has been suicidal myself, I can say that there is little-to-no correlation between the outward appearance in the days and weeks before a suicide attempt.
One colleague at The New York Times who had depression and who committed suicide during an acute stress due to a divorce in 2002 was having positive conversations with friends the weekend before he hurled himself off the side of our building. Another colleague at The Times who committed suicide was remarkably positive with his family before jumping into the Hudson River off the George Washington Memorial Bridge.
Mental health clinicians use the term “affect” to describe how someone’s emotional state appears. This is different from their actual mood. For example, someone may smile at the same time they feel flat inside. Clinicians refer to this as “affect being incongruent with mood.”