After the suicides of CNN storyteller Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade back to back, everyone’s social media feeds were coming out of the wood works with “Remember to reach out to your friends,” or “You’re not alone,” or “We MUST talk about mental illness and suicide.”
Articles were written about how suicide is depicted in the news, and how we should do better.
It was nice. It was necessary. It still IS necessary. But they’re not on our feeds anymore, because it’s no longer a trending topic.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain weren’t the only deaths trending in the news for a period of time this year in 2018. In January, YouTuber Logan Paul made an insensitive recording of a man’s death by suicide in Japan’s Suicide Forest; now he’s getting a documentary about how “dang hard” his year has been for him since the backlash he received amongst other criticisms he has received (boy, bye). In late January, Glee star Mark Salling died by suicide before a court case, and a lot of dialogue about whether or not suicide was an act of cowardice commenced (It’s not. I don’t care what a person did in their lifetime, suicide is NEVER an act of cowardice). In April, singer Avicii’s cause of death was confirmed as a suicide. He was 28.
The same thing happened each time on social media. “Depression is a hidden disease, but suicide is not the cure!” Three days later, never to be talked about again.
Moreover, suicide has been an ongoing public health issue and social justice issue. But not a lot of folks are talking about it on a regular basis. Shortly after the U.S. election of 2016, suicide hotlines ran off the hook. More underrepresented dialogue about suicide that isn’t about white celebrities is suicide amongst people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, and young folks within the confines of the criminal justice system. They certainly haven’t been “trendy” enough for folks to add to the dialogue. This is not to say their deaths aren’t important to talk about. This is to name that many people are being left out of the conversations and the decision making around suicide prevention efforts.
I don’t want to wait for another suicide to appear in the mass media in order for folks to talk about suicide and mental illness again. We should be talking about it when it’s not trending in order to create a world that people actually want to stay in and to give them better reasons to stay. We should not only talk about suicide after we lose someone when they’re not supposed to be lost in the first place.
As someone who has written about their personal struggles with mental illness and suicide ideation online and other forms of written work, I know that I have not always been able to speak so openly about it. And I know it’s been so hard for me to become more open about it because others refuse to talk about it unless it’s a trending topic. Our stories should not be solely reserved as your trending topics.
How can you be a trusted person to reach out to to feel less alone when you won’t be there to talk about it outside another death?
We need to do better.
And we can do better by looking up resources through organizations who have been working hard in mental health awareness and suicide prevention such as To Write Love on Her Arms The Buddy Project Project Semicolon, Mental Health America (especially their resources and programming for Minority Mental Health Month and more.
Being aware of great hotlines to call is another step, but to also be aware of how it’s not the best solution for every person; especially marginalized folks who have bad experiences with law enforcement that may be involved as soon as the hotline is called.
Elevate marginalized voices in the realm of mental health and suicide: people of color, queer folks, trans folks, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated folks, folks with disabilties (visible and invisible), religious/nonreligious minorities, low-income folks, and all of the folks with intersections amongst the two or more listed.
Elevate non-white celebrities and their stories. Black celebrities such as Jenifer Lewis have shared their stories about mental health, and black celebrities such as Karamo Brown and Ahmed Best have shared their stories about suicide ideation. Asian American actress, filmmaker, and YouTuber Anna Akana is another great storyteller about her journey with mental health and losing her sister to suicide. These are only a few examples.
Finally, don’t stop the check-ins and follow ups just because you don’t see it in the news. Let’s work to do better, because emphasizing the importance of mental wellness shouldn’t be temporary trend, but along-term focus.