Celebrity deaths call for honest, open conversation about suicide

Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain died by suicide
Posted at 4:02 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-08 20:17:02-04

DENVER -- Most news organizations have an unwritten policy not to cover suicides. It's not because journalists don’t care, we don't want to glamorize or encourage it.

However, the sudden deaths of Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain—two celebrities who seemingly had it all and died by suicide—is igniting a flashpoint around a difficult topic.

"I'm glad we're talking about it; I'm sorry for the reason," said Andrew Romanoff, president & CEO of Mental Health Colorado.

Denver7 sat down with Romanoff to have an honest conversation about suicide.

"[It] brought attention to an issue that has touched so many families across the country," explained Romanoff.

Every time this topic comes up, either personally or on television, we're confronted with "why." And often as the media searches for answers to those questions, we memorialize those that are now lost—perhaps giving someone struggling in silence a way out.

"You don't want to glamorize it or glorify it or sensationalize it," said Romanoff.

While the media's role can't be ignored, the trends in Colorado are very concerning.

Suicides are rising.

A new report from the CDC found suicide rates are up 34 percent in Colorado from 1999 to 2016.

"I think the most important thing I can do or you can do—everyone can do—is to make sure that folks are comfortable talking about it," said Romanoff. "Talking to someone about a fear you may have of their suicide does not make them more likely to die."

Romanoff said the stigma around suicide is still one of the biggest barriers to a proper discussion about the topic and treatments, along with a lack of mental health resources and high costs for care.

"We have to do more to bring down the cost of mental health care," he said.

This is where programs like the Yellow Ribbon Campaign come in, which helps educate kids and parents about suicide and passes out free cards full of resources.

"There's probably 18 million of these across the country. On the back it says, 'Stay listen and get help,'" said Dale Emme, with the Yellow Ribbon Campaign.

Emme and his wife Dar started the nonprofit after their son died by suicide.

"It felt like a failure about everything because we couldn't stop it, couldn't see it," said Emme. "I can take something that we lost and potentially help another parent not have to go through this nightmare."

With each of the free cards they pass out, their message is simple: It's OK to ask for help.

"If we're talking to our children about drugs and sex and appropriate internet and media work right now, we should be talking to them about suicide," said Emme.

Perhaps the most important message is that there is hope.

"Mental illness doesn't have to be a death sentence," said Romanoff.

The same CDC data shows 9 of 10 people who attempt suicide and survive go on to live out their lives, proving there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"My own twin sister is living proof that mental illness is treatable. She suffered from a very deep depression—cut herself off from me and my dad for four years. It was a horrible experience for all of us until she sought treatment," explained Romanoff.

There are many resources available 24 hours a day in Colorado if you or someone you know needs help. Click the link for more information.