In light of the recent, untimely and terribly tragic deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef/CNN host Anthony Bourdain this week, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of phone calls received by various mental health organizations around the world from people that are in crisis – jumping by as much as 30% – and while it’s good that people are realizing those resources are available, the passing of these and other celebrities also goes to show that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Anyone’s mental health can be at risk whether you are someone in the public eye or not.
As many as 3,000 people worldwide die by suicide each and every day. However, if there’s any positive that can come from these kinds of tragedies, it’s that it gets the conversation going. While mental illness can be a difficult subject to talk about, it’s still an important discussion to have nevertheless. By openly talking about mental health and suicide, this ultimately makes those tough discussions easier to have in the long-run, as well as helps break down the stigma that is associated with mental illness. How we choose to talk about mental health is also important. In instances where a celebrity death is involved, media coverage can sometimes be a blessing and a curse. While many media outlets respectfully pay tribute to those who’ve been lost, sometimes that media coverage can also seem voyeuristic in nature, and even overwhelming. In some cases the death of a celebrity can also serve as a trigger for individuals who already have a pre-existing mental illness and bring up intense feelings such as sadness, fear, anxiety, and even confusion. After all, if your favourite celebrity feels as though the only way to escape their pain is to take their own life, how can you, a regular human being, possibly go on? This is a sentiment that often gets expressed by individuals suffering from a mental illness.
Another side of mental illness, as mentioned, is the stigma. For many individuals, talking about mental illness equals shame. For example, how will their loved ones perceive them if they admit they have a problem and need help? Will they be looked at differently? And what about from a business perspective? Will it hurt their brand? These are many questions that someone with a mental illness will ask themselves, and those feelings of shame ultimately result in those individuals feeling hesitant to reach out for help. Situations like these are prime examples as to why it’s so important to talk about mental health. The more you talk about it, the less of a taboo subject it becomes, and the easier it will be for those who are suffering to seek guidance from a friend, a loved one, or a medical professional. Because mental illness can oftentimes go undiagnosed as a result of people failing to seek help, it’s also important to know the warning signs. Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, points out that things like changes in mood/personality, social withdrawal/isolation, increased anxiety, lack of self-care and other risky behaviour (i.e. substance abuse) are all things to watch out for. If you notice any of these warning signs in someone you know, take the time to ask them how they’re feeling and if there’s anything you can do to help them. Sometimes a simple conversation can be enough to spark someone to gain enough courage to talk about their mental health and ask for help. It’s also important to encourage people with mental illness to not feel ashamed in doing so.
If you are in crisis, there are many resources available which can be found via your local Canadian Mental Health Association as well as via suicideprevention.ca. In addition, the new Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) was recently launched, which allows individuals from all across Canada to access crisis support via text message, telephone, or online chat. To connect with a CSPS responder, call them toll-free at 1-833-456-4566, text 45645, or visit crisisservicescanada.ca.