ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Wealth and Fame Are Not the Cure

Jack Bragen
Saturday June 16, 2018 - 09:50:00 AM

Over the many centuries of civilization, people who have experienced disturbances in their lives and minds have provided many of the greatest contributions to society. 

I am very sad to hear of Anthony Bourdain's death. I greatly enjoyed his television shows. I do not know the first thing about preparing food beyond perhaps boiling an egg. I am not a world traveler, and I find it difficult to get out of the Martinez area. Thus, Bourdain's television series gave me a window through which I could vicariously experience the world. 

Isn't it always about getting the fabled, "Something More"? Apparently, wealth and fame did not give Bourdain what he sought. Or, maybe they did, but they didn't solve other problems he may have had. 

For readers unfamiliar with Anthony Bourdain: He was an author, chef, and world-traveler. He had an incredible television series (that won three Emmy Awards three years in a row, and also may have won other awards) that aired on CNN, on Sunday evenings, and the series lasted about ten years, only to be [presumably] terminated by Bourdain's death. 

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, overall, in the U.S. Suicide is even more common among people with mental illness. It is common among those inflicted with schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar. One in ten people with schizophrenia commit suicide, making it the number one cause of premature death among us. 

It is important, in these times, where we have a seemingly harsher society compared to a few years ago, that we seek help if we feel at risk, and definitely, talk about it. 

Taking one's own life should never be seen as a "solution" to your problems. It should never be seen as cool, as fashionable, or as glamorous. It is an act that throws one's life away, and it does not consider the well-being of others who are left behind to pick up the pieces. Suicide is selfish, it is utterly foolish, and it is sometimes vain. 

People sometimes go undiagnosed, and may be able to hide the fact from the public that they have a psychiatric problem. Those who aren't able to hide their problem often get treated like crap by an uncaring society and are unable to earn a living due to discrimination. It is hard to know if it is better to remain closeted about one's condition, or not. Anthony Bourdain (not afflicted with schizophrenia, but with other problems) also mentioned on his show that he was a heroin addict in his past. 

When someone who has achieved fame and wealth takes her or his own life, it indicates that there are some things you can not run from. You can not run away from your own cranium, no matter how fast you run. If your mind is tormenting you, you must seek help, even when it can be very hard to do so. Perhaps Bourdain could not summon the courage or bridge the gap that would have allowed him to ask for help. 

In no way do I intend to imply lack of bravery on the part of Anthony Bourdain. I know nothing about him other than what I have seen on his television show. He went to places that a more fainthearted or less brave person, such as I, would never consider going. He probably had a small film crew with a CNN logo, but this was no protection had local people become sufficiently annoyed with his presence in sensitive places. 

With some important exceptions, an individual who attempts suicide, by definition, is mentally ill. It is hard to know what Bourdain's diagnosis would have been, and I wouldn't want to speculate a diagnosis (which also I am not qualified to do) as a cloud upon someone with such a tremendous legacy. 

This week's piece isn't really about Anthony Bourdain; it is about the concept that we owe our happiness and well-being to nonmaterial things. The ability to be at peace with oneself is a precious commodity. Once learned, it will serve you for the rest of your life--which could be longer as a result of learning that. 

It might seem for an hour, for a day, or for a month, that things are awful, are unbearable, and could never be resolved. However, this is an illusion. In life, there are instances in which we have to wade through cesspools. But once we reach the other side of the cesspool, we could get cleaned up and things could be better. Death comes soon enough anyway, so we may as well stick around a bit longer and see if there is an off-chance that we will be able to turn things around. 

In addition, there are medicines that can help, there are doctors who can help, and, one hopes, you have some family that could help you in a time of need. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are alone; you are not alone.