News & Politics

Two suicides show us the bounds of mental illness are immeasurable

Deaths of Bourdain, Spade show nobody is immune to suicide.

Written by Ed Hitchins

A brother lost to suicide

It was a surprisingly warm, overcast day when I rode in the passenger seat of my father’s car on March 10th, 2017. My brother, Michael Hitchins, had gone missing. His wife and him had a fight the night before, and she took their two children and left.  About a half hour into our nearly two-and-a-half hour trip east from Vaughan to Peterborough, we received a call from Michael’s mother in law.

“Sorry, this isn’t good news,” were the words she said as she started the conversation to tell us the horrible news. Just 44 years old, Michael hung himself against the staircase of the two-level home he shared with his family.

For weeks after his funeral, I kept asking myself the same thing: Why? Why would a guy, who was so happy and full of life, with a family and two children, take that route of darkness, one of finality, so swift and sudden?

One of Michael’s favourite books was Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. This, along with Susur Lee’s book A Culinary Life were the inspiration which drove Michael into a culinary career.

Suicide takes 11 people per day in Canada

When Bourdain, host of CNN’s Parts Unknown was found dead of suicide on Friday, it was a constant reminder; a reminder that regardless of fame or fortune, in that realm of despair and desperation, we are truly alone.

Bourdain’s death followed the news of Kate Spade. Spade, herself a noted designer of fashion handbags and accessories, was found dead of a suicide on Tuesday morning.

Spade, who started her empire out of her tiny apartment in Manhattan with husband Andy Spade 25 years ago, took it to $27 million in sales in 5 short years. She sold the majority stake in 1999 for $34 million US, with the remaining 44 percent sold in 2006.  After a sabbatical, she returned in 2016 with a line called Frances Valentine.

It’s interesting to compare a celebrity chef, as well as a designer to my brother, who was no more than a hard-working man, dedicated to his children and his marriage.

The fact remains however, is that they are will all be forever linked: Suicide takes 11 people per day in Canada, with 210 people attempting it on a daily basis, based on a statistics from the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP). Of the ones that will commit to killing themselves, the CASP says that 7 of the 10 survivors will be ‘profoundly affected’.

It is up to them to figure out if that profound affect is a positive or negative. Michael’s attempt at suicide was not his first, having already attempted to swallow a bottle of painkillers which earned him a trip in a psychiatric ward.  His struggles with alcohol and drugs were quite noted amongst my family.

An outpouring of grief

It’s only a guess that Bourdain, who admits in Kitchen Confidential that getting high was a way of life whilst employed in a trendy SoHo restaurant in the 1980s, or Spade, who herself struggled with depression and anxiety, had tried it more than once.

The outpouring from all sides reminded me of Michael as well: Michael’s friends, as loyal and as dedicated as they were, flew from all sides of the world to convene on his memorial service. Bourdain and Spade have those accolades as well, from a much larger standpoint: Bourdain’s former employer, CNN, has had a marathon of a retrospective of Bourdain’s career on the network throughout the weekend, with highlights including his visit to Libya and Myanmar; While numerous celebrities have taken to Twitter to commend Spade, with former first daughter Chelsea Clinton noting the below:

More than anything else, all three of these people told a story: It is a story of struggle, of tragedy, and of triumph. The story that shows us that nothing is going to hit harder than life, and in the grand scheme of our lives, regardless of money, race, faith, or sexual orientation, that dark time may come and take us away.

Regardless of how successful you are, or how much impact you’ve had, mental illness shows no boundaries.