“The pattern of highly accomplished and successful people committing suicide is transfixing. It assures the rest of us that a life of accolades is not all that it’s cracked up to be and that achieving more will not make us happier. At the same time, it reveals the fact that no one is safe from suicide, that whatever defenses we think we have are likely to be inadequate.” (Andrew Soloman, The New Yorker, 2018)
I don’t feel much like writing today. I just heard that Anthony Bourdain died. Killed himself. Clearly I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain, but I knew him. Over the last 20 years of watching, reading and admiring Bourdain, I knew him. He was “my people.” High-functioning, authentic, credible and refreshingly honest.
I really don’t care if the social snark-patrol thinks I’m targeting a “easy” HR subject since a high profile celeb – actually TWO high profile celebs (RIP Kate Spade) – died by their own hands. The subject right now may be spilling into every HR blog, but there is nothing “easy” about the topic. Bourdain did what most pros can’t or won’t do: mix high credibility with complete honesty. He was honest with us about his drug and depression struggles, and that made me watch him even more.
Actually, let me clarify the statement above. Bourdain did what most pros can’t, won’t or are scared to do at work. Tell someone they suffer from mental illness in whatever form it takes on. And frankly, although Bourdain was honest about his heroin and depression matters, he may have been of the generation where you don’t talk about suicidal thoughts. Or dark depression. Or need help.
So a few things, since again, I’m not really sure what else to say right now:
- I will be talking about this topic, especially how it impacts work, a lot more.
- I am a huge advocate for counseling, especially if it can help detect and properly diagnose an underlying mental health issue. I’ve recommended it to many employees.
- Suicide rates are up 25% in the last two decades. I heard a doctor on CBS say if we saw a 25% increase in deaths due to heart disease there would be a very loud, public cry for help. Not so much with mental illness.
- I don’t think it is a coincidence Bourdain and Spade took their lives at 55 and 61. By that age you are just too tired to go through a cycle again.
What do we do:
- Fight for good mental health benefits on our plans.
- Know success and mental illness are not mutually exclusive.
- Quit all this crap about, “I really don’t want to know if there are problems with an employee, they may sue us”. You need to know so you can point someone in the right direction. You don’t need to know everything. But you need to know.
- Seriously, work is broken. I really believe that. Make it better. Use your common sense.
- If you, as a leader or HR pro, stigmatize mental illness yourself, get a new job. Work a job where you hide alone in a corner, because likely most of the people around you have something going on.
More to come on this.
Dawn Burke, VP of Talent Consulting at Kinetix and founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker, and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/recruiting/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, with past gigs including a foundational role as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.
Most importantly: She is addicted to TV, knows most of the lyrics to Hamilton and West Side Story, loves to cry at movies (check out Cinema Paradiso for a cry fest!), thinks wine, a wheel of Brie and Milk Duds make a well-balanced dinner, and sings in her car daily. Her husband and cat are the Yin to her Yang.