The suicide of someone who appears to have everything the rest of us dream of is always particularly unsettling. There is a persistent fantasy in most of us that if we were impossibly rich and successful, beautiful and vibrant then we would, of course, be blissfully happy. The fact that this is not true is underlined in such a tragic way by the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Avicii and so many others whose lives have spiraled out of control under the pressure of pretending (and this doesn’t only apply to celebrities). They turn out, to our great horror, to have been troubled and lonely people, feeling, perhaps, that nobody could really understand them or bear them.
Although I would suggest that those seeking fame and fortune may go into these glittering professions with pre-existing mental health issues (something we know to be true of Bourdain who battled addictions) but, whether or not this is always the case, celebrity status certainly does not help. How can somebody rich and famous tell someone who is not that they are suffering, lonely and desperate, dark and scared?
These individuals might fear it would seem rude or insulting to say they are troubled, but also it would shatter an illusion. And people in the business of maintaining illusions for whatever reason are likely to be in trouble. Aid workers maintain the illusion of calm control, a haven of help in a world of horror. Journalists maintain an illusion of intrepid interest, sangfroid in the face of terror. Performers and celebrities maintain whatever illusion it is they are promoting – laid back, cool and wicked in the case of Avicii, perfect glamour in the case of Kate Spade, winning charm in the case of Anthony Bourdain. Of course, this is an over-simplification but, nonetheless, if you need to put a face, a mask on for any reason then it is very easy to lose the real person behind that face and end up feeling lost, misunderstood and actually incomprehensible. Suicide is often an attempt to kill off the desperate person behind the mask, the one holding the glittery fantasy person back.
Suicide is the last desperate act. (And not a simple one, for it is also a terrible attack on those left behind. The worst punishment in our arsenal, for one can’t attack oneself without attacking others).
The truth, thank God, is that there can always be hope. Nobody is too terrible to bear, too complicated to understand or too miserable ever to be happy again. Very many people from every background, the rich and famous included, have had successful analysis or therapy and come out the other end stable, more authentic and calmer. With patients who feel they have to wear a mask because the person under the mask is too boring, stupid, depressed, anxious, sad or mad, always feel an enormous sense of relief when they take the mask off. Even when it’s to face the underlying depression and despair. Then we can work through it. Then we can get out the other side. Alive. It’s possible, but it takes a lot of courage to take the first step. To get in touch and say; “I’m not okay.”
—Anna Mortimer, Therapist, Journalist and Co-founder of the Mind Field