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Health and wellness

Bourdain and Spade: celebrity suicides highlight troubling trend among middle-aged adults

Suicide is now the fourth leading cause of death in the US for men aged 45-54, and the eighth leading cause of death for males 55-64, a group that included celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 8:59pm

The deaths of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade highlight a troubling trend – rising suicides among the middle-aged.

Mental health problems, often undiagnosed, are usually involved and experts say knowing warning signs and who is at risk can help stop a crisis from becoming a tragedy.

Bourdain, 61, and Spade, 55, died three days and a continent apart last week amid a new US report showing an uptick in suicides rates in nearly every state since 1999.

Middle-aged adults – ages 45 to 64 – had the largest rate increase, according to the report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previous studies have suggested economic downturns and the nation’s opioid crisis contributed to the rise in middle-aged suicides.

Dr Christine Moutier, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said it was important for everyone to know the warning signs and to intervene when family members, friends or colleagues appear troubled.

Asking if they’ve had suicidal thoughts is not harmful and lets them know you care, she said.

Behaviour that may indicate someone is suicidal includes:

Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, a burden to others or wanting to die.

Unusual mood swings or withdrawing from family, friends and usual activities.

Giving away important possessions.

Increased use of alcohol or drugs.

The latest report found that many suicides were in people with no known mental illness. But Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said that contradicted years of data, suggesting many have “gone undiagnosed and untreated. It’s very troubling”.

Gordon said doctors need to ask patients at every opportunity about their mental health and evaluate their risk for suicide.

“When you ask everybody and not just people you might suspect, you double the number you detect,” he said.

Gordon noted that psychotherapy and certain psychiatric drugs have been shown to reduce suicidal tendencies.

Moutier of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said that suicides can be “contagious” – hearing about one may make others who are already at risk turn to self-harm.

She said celebrity suicides also typically prompt an increase in calls to suicide help lines.

“People should know that suicide is preventable. Anyone contemplating suicide should know that help is available, and that there is no shame in seeking care for your mental health,” Dr Altha Stewart of the American Psychiatric Association said in a statement.

In the United States, the most common method of suicide involved firearms.

The highest suicide rate from 2014-2016 was in Montana, where 29.2 residents per 100,000 people took their own lives.

It was lowest in the US capital, Washington, with 6.9 suicides per 100,000 residents per year.

The biggest spike in suicides since 1999 was in North Dakota, where suicides rose 57 per cent.

A total of 25 states had suicide rate increases of more than 30 per cent in that span.

The CDC said individual states need to do more to boost suicide prevention “and address the range of factors contributing to suicide.”

“This requires coordination and cooperation from every sector of society: government, public health, health care, employers, education, media and community organisations,” it added.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 28 960 000 for The Samaritans or +852 23 820 000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse