Anthony Bourdain is photographed at the Hazlitts club in London on Sept. 2, 2010. Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room of a suicide at age 61. (Ian West/PA Wire/Abaca Press/TNS)

Peckman: In the wake of Spade and Bourdain, what can be done?


Although mental health legislation is an important first step, what can we all do to help those who struggle with mental illness?

By Charles Peckman

Kate Spade. Then Anthony Bourdain. Merely days apart, the suicides of these icons in their respective fields left many questioning the merits of achieving fame and success. To many, it may seem as though these people had it all ​— fame, fortune, success in the fashion and culinary worlds. But to others, their deaths illuminate a critical aspect of the human psyche ​— no matter who you are, you can be affected by mental illness.

Days after Spade’s suicide, her husband, Andy, said his wife had suffered from anxiety and severe bouts of depression. Bourdain was open about his struggles with mental health and substance abuse throughout his career, and in his landmark article in The New Yorker, said, “Gastronomy is the science of pain.” Both of these people left millions of fans, friends, and colleagues shocked, saddened, and confused. But as Iowa’s suicide rate has increased 36 percent between 1999 and 2016, a simple question remains ​— what can be done to help those who feel as though there is no other alternative?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed two bills into law in March to make “sweeping changes” to Iowa’s mental-health services. This includes suicide-prevention training for school employees and the implementation of six regional access centers for mental health. Democrats immediately began questioning the validity of the legislation, saying it would be unlikely that Republicans free up state funding to fully implement the bills. Despite these talks, and legislators’ best efforts to “fix” Iowa’s mental-health crises, one fact remains ​— mental health, and mental illness, isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, it is a human problem that deserves a human response.

I find it difficult to write about this subject. Despite my best efforts, I find myself staring at a blank page for far too long. It seems as though the words I wish to write are deep in my mind, trapped behind an unmovable barrier. Perhaps this is because mental illness has affected so many people in my life, including me, and it is disheartening to see legislators treat mental illness as something they can simply throw money at. To tackle the statewide and national epidemic of mental illness, the stigma surrounding it must dissipate. Although this statement is admittedly trite, there are small steps we can all take to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

As the world mourns the loss of two icons, I urge you to turn your conversations toward those in your life who are suffering from anxiety, depression, and other obstacles. ADHD and eating disorders are equally as important despite the lack of media attention surrounding them. Ask your friends and family members what they are going through, ask if there is anything you can do to help. Help them build a support system, because at the end of the day, having someone to talk to helps in ways you may have thought unimaginable.

Legislation can help those who suffer from mental illness a great deal, and the bills Reynolds signed into law are a good start. But widespread change will only come once legislation is on the same page as Iowans’ mindset toward mental illness.


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