Two celebrity suicides show importance of getting help

June 08, 2018
Illustration of troubled woman
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S., killing almost 45,000 people. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)

The suicides of travel host and author Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade are a stark reminder of the fact that the suicide rate in the U.S. is on the rise. From 1999 to 2016, it went up 28 percent. In South Carolina, it rose almost 40 percent.

MUSC Health psychiatrist Jeffrey Cluver, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said the mental health issues that can lead to suicide can be well hidden. “People can in public put on a good face and still be fairly depressed. It’s not always obvious. So if you sense that someone is not functioning as well as they used to, or especially if they’re isolating themselves, just ask if they’re feeling depressed or anxious or they’re OK.”

He’s encouraging anybody who’s having suicidal thoughts to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s open 24 hours a day.


And if you know someone who is suicidal, treat it as a medical emergency, Cluver said. “Call for help, whether that’s 911, or if they’re already seeing a provider, calling that provider and asking for guidance. Stand by that person’s side until they get some help.”


If you’re worried about somebody but it’s not clear that they’re in a crisis, Cluver said you should speak up. “You don’t have to have a magic thing to say. Just engage and say are you OK, are you hurting, is there anything I can do? The more people the better. One of the predictors of suicide is lack of social support. It can be chronic or in the moment. Just having dialogue and engaging can go a long way.”


So why is the suicide rate rising in the U.S.? “We don’t know,” Cluver said. “The risk factors for suicide are well elucidated, but there’s not enough research that goes into suicide.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites several factors that contribute to suicide in people with and without mental health issues: 

  • Problematic substance use

  • Relationship problem

  • Crisis in the past or upcoming two weeks

  • Criminal legal problem

  • Physical health problem

  • Loss of housing

  • Job/financial problem

Cluver said feeling hopeless can also lead to suicidal thoughts, along with chronic pain. “There’s good treatment out there for depression and any other mental illness people have. There’s help, and we need to stop treating mental illness like it’s not an illness."

We need to end the stigma surrounding mental health treatment, Cluver said. “I’d say the higher up the social and economic ladder you climb, potentially the worse the stigma gets. You want to be seen as omnipotent person who’s in control and you worry about how it’s going to affect your career. Some people have started to buck that trend, but it’s a real problem.”


MUSC Health has an Institute of Psychiatry with inpatient and outpatient treatment. The number is 843-792-9888. You can also find more information about risk factors and resources on the MUSC Counseling and Psychological Services page.


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Helen Adams

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