As news of two celebrity suicides has upset many people around the world this week, it has presented a possibly lethal risk to a segment of the population: those already struggling with their own mental-health issues.
“Here we have two people similar in age, with different fan demographics, but who both have young kids, and are well-liked and well-respected in their fields,” Julie Cerel, president of the American Association of Suicidology, tells Yahoo Lifestyle regarding the suicides of both designer Kate Spade and chef/TV host Anthony Bourdain in recent days. “So people might say, ‘If their life is so bad, and they had everything, what hope is there for someone like me?’”
In other words, says Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), “‘if they couldn’t make it, how can I?’” That’s why, he tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “we know that when there’s a celebrity suicide, it increases the risk of contagion.”
Chef Anthony Bourdain through the years
Chef Anthony Bourdain through the years
UNITED STATES - APRIL 12: Chef Anthony Bourdain has a drink at Tintol restaurant in Times Square. Bourdain, 49, is the star of 'Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,' the Travel Channel series that's half travelogue and half food show. Traveling constantly for the show, on which he regularly grosses viewers out by eating such delicacies as fermented shark meat in Iceland - 'the smell alone would stop a rhinoceros in its tracks,' he says - means he's only in his Manhattan apartment a few days out of the month. (Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
(AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND OUT) Chef Anthony Bourdain, 27 October 2003. AFR Picture by MICHELE MOSSOP (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Chef Anthony Bourdain does a cooking demonstration at the South Beach Food And Wine Festival on February 26, 2005 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 21: Chef Tom Colicchio and TV personality Anthony Bourdain attend the Food Bank For New York City's Sixth Annual Can-Do Awards at Abigail Kirsch's Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on April 21, 2009 in New York City (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for BWR)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 28: Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain attend the 2010 South Beach Wine and Food Festival Grand Tasting Village on February 28, 2010 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - JUNE 30: Anthony Bourdain discusses his book 'Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook' presented by Books and Books at Lincoln Theatre on June 30, 2010 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
TOP CHEF -- 'An Offer They Can't Refuse' Episode 808 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jduges Tom Colicchio, Anthony Bourdain (Photo by David Giesbrecht/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Anthony Bourdain attends the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village during the 2011 South Beach Wine and Food Festival on February 27, 2011 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by John Parra/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19: TV personality Anthony Bourdain attends the Great Googa Mooga 2012 at Prospect Park on May 19, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 650 -- Pictured: (l-r) Anthony Bourdain, Jimmy Fallon -- (Photo by: Ira James/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TASTE - ABC's 'The Taste' features no-holds barred chef Anthony Bourdain. (Photo by Sasha Shemirani/ABC via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 10: Anthony Bourdain attends the Disney ABC Television Group 2013 TCA Winter Press Tour at The Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa on January 10, 2013 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Anthony Bourdain attends the South Beach Wine and Food Festival 2013 Grand Tasting Village on February 23, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 02: Anthony Bourdain signs his book at Hey New York: Meet Anthony Bourdain + Eric Ripert book signing event for his book 'Appetites: A Cookbook' at Williams-Sonoma Columbus Circle on December 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Owen Hoffmann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 10: TV personality Anthony Bourdain attends 'Parts Unknown Last Bite' Live CNN Talk Show hosted by Anthony Bourdain at Atomic Liquors on November 10, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 24280_001_0026.JPG (Photo by Isaac Brekken/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 10: (L-R) Senior vice president for talent and content development Amy Entelis, Anthony Bourdain and Senior vice president of development and acquisitions Vinnie Malhotra attend the CNN Upfront 2014 at Skylight Modern on April 10, 2014 in New York City. 24679_002_0417.JPG (Photo by Bryan Bedder/WireImage for Turner Networks)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0657 -- Pictured: (l-r) Author/Chef Anthony Bourdain and host Jimmy Fallon during an interview on April 19, 2017 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 04: Chef, Author and TV Personality Anthony Bourdain attends The 2015 Bronx Academy Of Letters Chefs' Tasting Benefit at The Edison Ballroom on March 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: (L-R) Chef Mario Batali, Artist Shantell Martin, and Chef Anthony Bourdain attend The (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Anthony Bourdain attends the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 12, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Author/chef Anthony Bourdain attends the 2015 Center For Fiction Benefit & Awards at The Metropolitan Club on December 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images)
Anthony Bourdain poses with the outstanding informational series or special award for "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown" backstage at the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
REFILE-QUALITY REPEAT U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Anthony Bourdain after an interview at a shopping area of Hanoi, Vietnam May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12: Anthony Bourdain and Asia Argento attend the 2018 Women In The World Summit at David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center on April 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 18:Anthony Bourdain is seen in midtown on January 18, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Asia Argento and Anthony Bourdain attend the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: Anthony Bourdain attends Build Series Presents discussing The New Documentary 'Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent'at Build Studio on April 19, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Mack/FilmMagic)
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But reasons for suicide are complex, and anyone can be at risk, regardless of social or socioeconomic status. It’s a fact unfortunately proven not only by the deaths of the highly successful Spade, who was 55, and Bourdain, who was 61, but also by the jarring statistics of a new report on from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released on Friday: that suicide rates are up 25 percent nationally, have risen steadily in nearly every state between 1999 and 2016, and that, in 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides. Reasons for the spike, according to the report, range from problems with relationships and substance abuse to a physical health problem or “crisis” of some kind — issues that can affect anyone.
Still, when someone already thinking about suicide or dealing with any variety of mental-health struggles learns that a celebrity at the top of his or her game has committed suicide, it can be dangerously triggering.
Both Cerel and Reidenberg point out that following the 2014 suicide of Robin Williams — news that Spade’s sister said this week had captivated Spade’s attention at the time — there was a rise in suicides nationally; one study put the subsequent rise at 10 percent in the months that immediately followed.
“We saw a spike of same-method suicides … after some really graphic reporting,” says Cerel, who is also a psychologist and a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. “That gives a little correlational evidence to how it affected people already contemplating suicide”
Reidenberg sees the connection as even more absolute. “There are 100-plus studies around the world showing this correlation,” he says. “There was a 12 percent increase in suicide after Marilyn Monroe … We know it increases risk for others.”
Kate Spade through the years
Kate Spade through the years
Kate Spade during The 2001 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards - Arrivals at The Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
Kate Spade during The Fresh Air Fund Salutes American Heroes at Tavern on the Green in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
Designer Kate Spade arriving at the 2002 Ace Awards presented by The Accessories Council at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. November 5, 2002. Photo by Evan Agostini/ImageDirect.
Kate Spade during The Concert for New York City - After Party at Hudson Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Kate Spade during 13th Annual Glamour Magazine's Women of the Year Awards - Arrivals at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
Kate Spade with husband and brother-in-law David Spade at the 20th Annual American Fashion Awards at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center in New York City. 06/14/2001. Photo: Evan Agostini/ImageDirect
Kate Spade during 17th Annual CFDA Awards at JP Morgan Atrium in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Designer Kate Spade is photographed at her offices. (Photo by David Howells/Corbis via Getty Images)
Kate Spade and Andy Spade during Costume Institute Benefit Dance: 'Party of the Year' - Arrivals at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
Kate Spade during 14th Annual GLAMOUR Women of the Year Awards - Red Carpet at American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
Kate Spade (Photo by Carley Margolis/FilmMagic)
Kate Spade during CFDA 7th on Sale Kick-Off - Red Carpet and Inside at Sky Light Studios in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/WireImage for LaForce and Stevens)
NEW YORK - JUNE 7: Designer Kate Spade attends the '2004 CFDA Fashion Awards' at the New York Public Library June 7, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
Kate Spade, Andy Spade and Ruth Lande Shuman, founder/president of Publicolor (Photo by Carley Margolis/FilmMagic)
David Spade and Kate Spade during Photographer's Gallery Presents Slim Aarons Curated by Kate Spade at Fred Segal Cafe in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Chris Weeks/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - APRIL 30: Kate Spade and Andy Spade attend PARSONS The NEW SCHOOL FOR DESIGN 59TH ANNUAL BENEFIT and FASHION SHOW Honoring SUSAN D. KRONICK, Vice Chairman, Federated Department Stores, Inc. at Grand Hyatt on April 30, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Kate Spade attends the 2015 Basser Center For BRCA Benefit at Cipriani Wall Street on November 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: Kate Spade speaks on stage at Build Series Presents Kate Spade and Andy Spade Discussing Their Latest Project Frances Valentine at Build Studio on April 28, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/WireImage)
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Another recent example of this was with the release of the highly controversial Netflix drama series 13 Reasons Why, which depicts the suicide of a high school student — and which, according to one study, prompted a swift 20 percent rise in Google queries about suicide.
“Searches for precise suicide methods increased after the series’ release,” wrote the study’s authors, while also noting that it was unclear whether an increase in searches equals an increase in actual suicide attempts (though there’s typically a correlation between the two). In conclusion, they wrote, their findings “suggest 13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.”
So what is it about reports and even fictionalized depictions of suicide that can set off some individuals? “People at risk tend to overidentify with details in a story,” Reidenberg, also a psychologist and a representative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), says. “So if someone [who took their own life] was married, had three kids, had these likes and these hobbies, somebody else can then put themselves in the narrative and say, ‘That’s my life.’”
Risk also increases with today’s increased media coverage of high-profile suicides, he says, noting, “It’s not about media covering it, but how they’re covering it — if it’s sensational, graphic, detailed, repeated frequently, glorified, romanticized, has no balance, and has messages about the specific method.”
Cerel says that people who have lost loved ones to suicide are at the most risk of suicide themselves and that it’s heightened even more after a high-profile suicide. “Just the story can become a trigger, and reminds them of their loved one, especially when the reporting is awful,” she says. By that, she means stories (such as many of those published right after Williams’s death) that are descriptive about method, include the contents of notes, and describe the acute reactions of loved ones.
“It becomes voyeuristic,” she says. Although some standards of journalism used to recommend nondisclosure, in some cases, if a cause of death was suicide, “we’ve now swung the other way too much … Journalists will tell me, ‘Well, people want us to paint a picture,’ but why? If someone dies of cancer, we don’t have to know what the person was wearing or what color their bed sheets were.” Further triggering, she says, is the constant barrage of instant reporting on a suicide.
“Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have even heard about any of these deaths until the 6 o’clock news,” she says.
Guidelines for responsible reporting on suicides that could be less triggering, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, include avoiding sensationalistic headlines (“Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide”), leaving out photos of mourning relatives or tools of suicide, not printing the details of a suicide note, and avoiding words that describe the suicide in terms of a “successful” or “unsuccessful” attempt. Instead, the guidelines suggest, use a school or work photo of the deceased, include helpful hotlines for others who may be at risk, stick to the basic facts (“Kurt Cobain dead at 27”), mention that a note was found without describing its contents, and describe the death by using terms such as “died by suicide” or “killed himself/herself.”
Finally, if you know someone who might be at risk during this time of heightened reporting on the topic, there are simple measures you can take to be supportive, Reidenberg says.
“Be available,” he says. “Talk to them, ask if they need help, and know the resources that are available. Make sure they know people care about them, and be genuine about it — people who are suicidal can see right through it otherwise. And just be sure to follow through and not just ask, ‘How are you?’ one day and then disappear. Keep checking in.”