What Anthony Bourdain’s untimely death teaches us
Depression doesn’t care about success, or what you’ve accomplished
Why would an accomplished and successful 61-year-old chef, seemingly endowed with boundless energy, decide to end his life? Anthony Bourdain left no note, but his untimely death highlights why depression can be the loneliest state to be in.
Depression doesn’t care about success, or what you’ve accomplished. Or what you could be throwing away. Anyone can be depressed, whether they are highly successful or facing failure.
Harish Shetty, social psychiatrist, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai, believes professional success is not an antidote to depression. “Depression is a state of mind that can affect anyone in a globalized world. Intelligent people, in fact, often manage to hide and mask their true moods,” he says. One can also be very lonely at the pinnacle of success, because it becomes that much harder to appear vulnerable and share the pain.
There are no defined, preset triggers for depression. Science today is not able to tell us why some suffer from it and others do not, though the rise in numbers may be due to a quicker pace of life—we are trying to live a century in a decade. “As we run this fast, we are getting alienated and disconnected. Disconnection causes severe stress, which can lead to depression. The pressure to be at the top in any field, whether in show business or in corporate life, is extremely stressful even if it is not visible,” says Dr Shetty.
In addition, midlife comes with its own pitfalls. “Existential crisis (born out) of the belief that one has not achieved enough is stressful. Loss of face if one is forced to quit, is superseded, or one gets a bad appraisal, are small stressors that can slowly build up,” he adds.
The triggers, says Samir Parikh, director of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi, could be varied, stemming from the individual’s personal life, social or interpersonal functioning, workplace or professional functioning. “According to the World Health Organization, close to 800,000 people commit suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Recent incidents are indicative of an increasing number of such attempts across ages, gender and economic strata,” says Dr Parikh.
Very often, people don’t know they are depressed. A senior corporate manager found he was taking an hour to read five pages that he could do in 5 minutes earlier. He was screened through the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, a standardized scale to assess severity of depression (available even on the internet), and scored high on it. “Timely treatment helped him bounce back,” says Dr Shetty.
“If you find yourself being a little irritable, delaying deadlines, withdrawn, arguing in meetings excessively, or suddenly lose concentration at work, or feel responsible for all the mishaps in the office… make an appointment to meet a mental health professional,” adds Dr Shetty.
While it’s important to speak, share and seek support, it’s as essential to listen or look for cues, especially at work. Dr Shetty, in fact, believes all health check-ups in hospitals should include a mental health check-up—mental health screenings should be introduced in particular for executives in high-pressure jobs.
Samir Parikh, director of department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi
Suicide is preventable
Contrary to popular opinion, suicide does not happen on the spur of the moment. It is often a well thought out decision, which means that there could be many clear warning signs. Look out for:
■ Verbal statements like “I hate my life”, “Nothing matters any more”, “Life is not worth living”, particularly if made with increasing frequency.
■ Giving away precious possessions
■ Isolating oneself from friends and family
■ Dramatic changes in mood
■ Expressing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
■ Looking for lethal or poisonous objects like guns, pills, etc.