Depression wields a heartbreaking hold on those who suffer its relentless assault. It has a harsh clench, a grasp on one’s life that steals all traces of well-being. Men and women suffer depression’s attack. Young people are besieged by depression’s terror. Even the youngest among us suffer from that elusive sadness that a young child could never understand. Depression sometimes results in the most tragic of outcomes: suicide. Depression overwhelms people we know and care about, our children, our parents, our close friends, and the friends we know from afar.
Anthony Bourdain was such a friend to many. My husband and I loved watching Parts Unknown, just relaxing while Anthony Bourdain took us on exotic journeys near and far. He had a way of bursting into our living room through the television, grabbing our attention with his friendly swagger, and taking us along on an adventure in food and culture. We took for granted the delightful experiences he created for us, but now that he is gone, we are grieving as if he had been a best friend.
He had this special way of inviting us into his life experience. He was gifted in making us feel present with him in his current adventure. He took us to places we never dreamed of going, and made us see the possibility of eating foods we would not normally put even near our mouths. He expanded our wanderlust and our taste buds. He made us feel that we really knew him.
But we really did not know him, it seems. We did not know the depth of his emotional life, his bouts with depression, the dark place that he was obviously dealing with. Even his close friends and family did not expect that he would take his own life. But he did and, as his colleagues expressed, it will be a loss of creativity, talent, and the delightful quirkiness that would say, “Your body is not a temple; it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” (Anthony Bourdain)
We are left to wonder, though. Perhaps Anthony Bourdain did not always enjoy the ride. Mental health challenges can take all that one enjoys and twist all of it into something unrecognizable, something hurtful, something that steals one’s joy. It has been too much to take in, the deaths of Kate Spade and then, so soon, Anthony Bourdain, both apparent suicides. We cower at the thought of an epidemic that we are not prepared to control. Those who know tell us, again and again, that the interventions for mental health in this country are woefully inadequate. The current reality is that suicide rates rose steadily in nearly every state from 1999 to 2016, increasing 25 percent nationally, according to a report this past Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides.
These are statistics that should cause us heartbreak, enough heartbreak to compel us to use our voices to advocate for more appropriate and effective mental health interventions in our nation. But the heartbreak gets more personal when we lose a friend, a bigger than life friend like Anthony Bordain. It appears that he, too, knew something about heartbreak. In his own words:
Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you . . . You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.
Anthony Bordain did leave something good behind, something that he showed us each week: how to open ourselves to other cultures, how to join strangers around tables of friendship, how to try new things and learn new things, how to enjoy food, drink and friends, and how to know yourself better because you stepped out of your comfort zone to know another person from another land.
He gets the last word, the last poignant word:
It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
How to Help a Loved One Who Is Severely Depressed
Don’t underestimate the power of showing up
You may not feel that your presence is wanted. But just being by the side of someone who is depressed, and reminding her that she is special to you, is important to ensuring that she does not feel alone, said Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine.
Don’t try to cheer him up or offer advice
Your friend has an enviable job and two lovely children. He’s still ridiculously handsome even though he hasn’t gone to the gym for six months. It’s tempting to want to remind him of all these good things. Not only is that unlikely to boost his mood, it could backfire by reinforcing his sense that you just don’t get it, said Megan Devine, a psychotherapist and the author of “It’s O.K. That You’re Not O.K.”
“Your job as a support person is not to cheer people up. It’s to acknowledge that it sucks right now, and their pain exists,” she said.
It’s O.K. to ask if she is having suicidal thoughts
Lots of people struggle with depression without ever considering suicide. But depression is often a factor. Although you may worry that asking, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” will insult someone you’re trying to help — or worse, encourage her to go in that direction — experts say the opposite is true.
“It’s important to know you can’t trigger suicidal thinking just by asking about it,” said Allen Doederlein, the executive vice president of external affairs at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. If the answer is yes, it’s crucial that you calmly ask when and how; it’s much easier to help prevent a friend from hurting herself if you know the specifics.
Take any mention of death seriously
Even when a person with depression casually mentions death or suicide, it’s important to ask follow-up questions. If the answers don’t leave you feeling confident that a depressed person is safe, experts advised involving a professional as soon as possible. If this person is seeing a psychiatrist or therapist, get him or her on the phone. If that’s not an option, have the person you’re worried about call a suicide prevention line, such as a 1-800-273-TALK, or take her to the hospital emergency room; say aloud that this is what one does when a loved one’s life is in danger.
Make getting to that first appointment as easy as possible
You alone cannot fix this problem, no matter how patient and loving you are. A severely depressed friend needs professional assistance from a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or another medical professional. What you can do is to try to make getting to that first appointment as easy as possible. That might mean sitting next to your friend as he calls to make the appointment, finding counseling that he can afford, or even going with him that first time, if you’re comfortable with it.
Take care of yourself and set boundaries
When the thoughtful and kind people we’ve loved for years are depressed, they may also become uncharacteristically mean and self-centered. It’s exhausting, painful and hard to know how to respond when they pick fights or send nasty texts. Just because someone is depressed is not a reason to let their abusive behavior slide. Set clear boundaries with straightforward language such as, “It sounds like you’re in a lot of pain right now. But you can’t call me names.”
Boundaries about how much you can help and how much time you can give are important. Although you want to be present with your friend, set boundaries that keep you healthy and stick to them.
Remember, people do recover from depression
It can be hard when you’re in the middle of the storm with a depressed friend to remember that there was a time before, and hopefully a time after, this miserable state. It is important to remind yourself — and the person you’re trying to help — that people do emerge from depression. Because they do.
(From a New York Times article, “What to Do When a Loved One Is Severely Depressed” by Heather Murphy, June 7, 2018, http://tiny.cc/yqyiuy)
A helpful website providing many resources for help:
Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning, February 14, 2012, by
Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive and the Creative by Eric Maisel, https://www.amazon.com/Why-Smart-People-Hurt-Sensitive/dp/1573246263/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=72HYRNBE90SYMTN8PMY7
Mindfulness for Kids: Create a Happier Life for Your Kids by Reducing Stress, Anxiety and Depression, November 27, 2017 by