Op-Ed: Anthony Bourdain’s death has us asking the wrong questions about suicide
We are often told that suicide is something of a social disease, as opposed to a personal affliction. It is also a form of self-harm — and as such, something we don’t really understand fully. Even though suicide is often misreported, there is a lot we don’t know. The number of people who die by suicide every year is about five times greater than the number of people we’re convinced die as a result of suicide. This is a true tragedy, but there are far too many myths about suicide to take it lightly.
For example, there was a time when suicide was taken so seriously in our culture that one could only practice it to the extent to which one was prepared to sacrifice ones’ own life. There really were people who committed suicide because they couldn’t endure the burdens of life in society, who died in agony. There were people who, in their despair, were willing to die rather than live life in prison. There were soldiers, of course, who died in wars and who took their lives. There was a time when a man who felt he could not hold down his job found a way to, by killing himself — and if only his colleagues had known he intended to die, he probably wouldn’t have been fired. There was yet another time when a man decided, in his own time of despair, to pull the pin on an umbrella and jump off a roof. He died of a broken heart.
Such people had to die to prove that suicide was, indeed, a way of life for us — and that life is simply too damned hard to bear.
There was a time when suicide was understood to be a form of self-abuse — not a way of dealing with the demons of life, but a way to express the depths of despair people go through. Of course, this is no longer the case. Suicide is now understood as meaning to let one die when one feels it is inevitable that one will die — and the only thing that makes this easier is to have a mental illness that one doesn’t recognize as one’s own. The last person who did this was a man named Alfred P. Munn who apparently had so much shame that he was so ashamed of his mental illness that he chose to die instead of