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Celebrity Suicides Highlight Mental Health Risks

Experts urge open conversation to addressing growing problem


As the public, friends and loved ones continued reeling from the news of fashion designer Kate Spade's suicide last week, followers of Anthony Bourdain learned last Friday, June 8 of news that he had taken his own life. The celebrities' deaths come as a new report highlights the growing problem of suicide in the United States.

A study released Thursday, June 7 by the Center for Disease and Prevention found suicide rates rose in 49 states between 1999 and 2006, with a total of nearly 45,000 suicides in 2016. The report lists suicide as the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among those ages 35 to 54. Numbers increased across all demographics, including race, age, gender and ethnicity. Notably, more than half of suicide victims did not have a known mental health condition but did more commonly have relationship challenges, life stresses, and/or recent life crises. 

"We're losing more people to suicide than we would if the 9-11 attacks happened 10 times every year," says Glenn Most, PsyD, executive director of West Pines Behavioral Health. "This isn't someone else's problem, it's up to all of us to come together and talk about it. Even if someone seems like they have everything, they might still be struggling with something they're afraid to talk about. We need to reach out to people we know and ask how they're doing, that's how each one of us can help turn this around."

Most is part of a coalition of public and mental health groups behind the Let's Talk Colorado campaign, an initiative encouraging Coloradans to talk openly about mental health. Experts recommend individuals reach out to others who seem to be struggling, sad or acting out of character, to ask how they're feeling. The next step, they say, is to encourage someone to seek professional help if needed.

"The CDC's research and [last] week's headlines prove that suicide is an issue that affects us all, no matter our background or level of success," says John M. Douglas, Jr., M.D., executive director of Tri-County Health Department. "We all need to look out for each other by reaching out. We can even save a life by supporting someone we love if they need mental health care."

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