Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Anyman - the Contagion of Hopelessness

In the wake of Kate Spade's death, looking at suicide differently


The list of warning factors for suicide reads, in part, like a catalog of everyday modern ills: lagging self-esteem, depression, loss of relationships or economic security, insomnia. “When you look at those lists,” says Eric Beeson, core faculty member at Northwestern University’s Counseling@Northwestern, “it almost seems like who’s not a candidate for suicide?”

Suicide risk is not as simple as a list of risk factors. “We talk about suicide as this one thing,” says Beeson, “but suicide is really this spectrum of behaviors. You always ask, ‘Are they suicidal?’ and for me that’s really a limiting question.” In assessing whether people might kill themselves, Beeson looks at “key variables that seem to be more related to death.” Those are:
  • Perceived burdensomeness, “this idea that my death is more valuable than my life.”
  • Thwarted belongingness, “meaning I try to make meaningful connections, and they just don’t work out.”
  • Hopelessness, “OK, I have this, and it’s never going to get better.”
  • Acquired capability, the ability to set aside normal psychological and physical constraints and perform an act that may be painful or horrifying.
With the first two factors, Beeson says, people begin to have ideas about suicide. Adding hopelessness can bring on planning of a suicide. But the final factor is the hardest to discern.

Clinicians like Beeson look for clues that the person might have become more inured to pain, shame or guilt. Past histories of abuse, substance abuse disorders, assaults or even professions such as medicine that make contact with death part of the everyday can constitute a slow wearing away of the mental and physical barriers to self-harm. “People work along that continuum until they start to overcome the pain, the shame and the guilt,” he says, “and then the value of suicide starts to outweigh the pain, shame and guilt.”

Suicide is not typically an impulsive act. “People talk about it being selfish; people talk about it being irrational,” says Beeson, “but actually I think a lot of suicides are very well-thought out, very well-contemplated. And generally not impulsive. Generally, this is a long process for an individual that started with a faint idea that gradually took hold as those risk factors mounted and as the capability came into their purview.” Leaving behind a note, as Kate Spade reportedly did, can be interpreted as evidence of the contemplation suicide often entails — it may be an attempt to remove the last psychological barriers to death.

“Some people might say that it’s a last way to cope with some of the guilt,” says Beeson. “The guilt can be a protective factor in a certain way, so some people might say that’s a way to reduce that. There’s something about this that the person is still not OK with, so they are trying to address that.”

The philosophical debate on suicide is more present than ever. In ancient societies, suicide was sometimes interpreted as an available and even noble choice. Today, in countries like Switzerland, where there are euthanasia clinics, assisted suicide is accepted. And five U.S. states and the District of Columbia have “Death With Dignity” laws that allow assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness. 

“That gets us into the discussion of whether it is ever OK and under what circumstances,” Beeson says. “Some people would argue that if I have a chronic mental health condition that interferes with my quality of life, is that any different than a fatal medical condition? And that’s a really really hard discussion to have.”
The grim impact of celebrity suicides


According to several studies, publicity surrounding a suicide has been repeatedly linked to a subsequent increase in the act, particularly among young people.

After Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, the cause listed as probable suicide, the nation mourned — publicly. In the month that followed there was sweeping news coverage, public memorials and a 12% increase in suicides. That month saw an additional 303 suicides in comparison to the year prior, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 

When Robin Williams died in 2014, the world reacted similarly. The comedian’s image was everywhere, details of his untimely passing spawned countless news articles and think pieces. His death is also similarly associated with a 10% increase in suicide across the United States in the five months after his passing, according to a study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, in February. 

The phenomenon is often referred to as “suicide contagion,” defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as an increase in suicides due to “the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide.” 

And the overwhelming influence of a celebrity or high-profile suicide is far from a new discovery. Following the 1774 publication of Wolfgang Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther” — a book in which a young man ends his life after a failed love affair — Europe also saw a spike in suicides, particularly in men the same age as the protagonist.

The outbreak prompted the novel to be banned in several European locations.

I have some (albeit limited) experience on the subject of suicide. A very close friend's father committed suicide in the early hours of July 5th 1967.

I've had friends and acquaintances commit suicide and I've counseled a handful of suicidal persons. I don't credit it to my counseling skills, but none of my counselees followed through with their intents. 

I've also counseled a man who attempted suicide. He had shot himself all the way through his his head - temple to temple! He used to small of a calibre weapon to accomplish his objective, but the act left him blind in one eye, mostly blind in the other and mostly paralyzed.

I have a relative who attempted suicide with a rifle and left a hole in his home's roof.

Just this year a prominent and respected church member committed suicide.

Somewhat related, I was a kid when Superman committed suicide. I remember being told about it and how it left a mark on me.

Someone recently asked me if suicide is mentioned in the Bible. The answer is that there are Bible character who indeed kill themselves: Most obviously would be Judas, Saul,  and Samson. Here's a list of seven suicides in the Bible.

I have a family member who has told me that if he ever gets cancer he's going to commit suicide.

I've also counseled people whose parents committed suicide. Needless to say, that suicide is terribly hurtful to one's children and loved ones. A study has shown that children of parents who committed suicide are at a significantly increased risk for committing suicide themselves. The younger the child at the time of the parent's suicide, the greater the risk of his or her own suicide.

I've been asked - "have you ever considered suicide?" There was one time, briefly, when if I could have killed myself I think perhaps I might have. When I was in intensive care after I broke my neck - when I woke up and knew my condition, I prayed to die! I had a $ 100,000 life insurance policy and I deemed that my wife would be better were I dead. I think that if there were a red button that would have ended my life, I would have pushed it. 

Have I been discouraged in life? Yup! Many times. My ministry career didn't turn out the way I had hoped and frankly the last year of my career was less than fun!

Does the Bible speak directly to the ethics of suicide? Yes indeed. "Suicide" defined is "to kill oneself":

The "-cide" suffix pertains to "killing"

God is the granter and the One with authority to end life:

So to be clear - it is morally wrong to take one's life!

Hopelessness is a dangerous Suicide warning sign and the answer to hopelessness is Christ!

John 3 is the key chapter on being born again and John 3:16 is the key verse:

I have a line break above to separate the image below from the very importable Biblical teachings in this blog post. For those with immediate thoughts of suicide - please, I beg you, do not hurt yourself - reach out to someone today. This hotline is always available:

I've heard this view (below) that is is wrong to say that someone "committed suicide". I strongly disagree! It's a choice they made!

Blame it on Uber?

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