It's not just famous people who are killing themselves.
What I've got they used to call the blues.
Nothing is really wrong,
feeing like I don't belong.
Some kind of lonely clown... Karen Carpenter, Rainy Days and Mondays.
When it comes to saying something stupid, I'll put my record up against anybody's.
There was one time I didn't say something stupid, though, and I still marvel that I didn't.
And thank God.
When I was 17, a lifelong friend confided that he was thinking of killing himself. Everything he did seemed to turn out wrong, he said, and he was convinced that he was a major disappointment to his parents.
This friend had everything most of us didn't - two professional parents, a girlfriend, a car and money, among other things. Pointing out the bounty with which he'd been blessed would've been the easiest thing in the world, as would saying "Man, you have nothing to be depressed about. Why, if I had your hands, I'd cut mine off."
That would've been the easiest thing to say - as well as the stupidest.
After designer Kate Spade and world traveler Anthony Bourdain apparently took their own lives within days of each other, a lot of people asked "How could someone with so much money and fame kill herself or himself?"
What a stupid thing to say.
I called Dr. Jeffrey Snow after hearing about
Bourdain's death to ask what should we
do if a friend or loved one seems in danger of self-harm.
Dr. Snow, a Raleigh psychiatrist in practice since 1992, said "In all cases, it should be taken seriously, but especially if they're not just expressing thoughts, but intent, If they start talking about how they would do it. You should get them help."
What, I asked Dr. Snow, are the risk factors of which people should be aware?
"If alcohol and drugs are involved, or if there've been previous (suicide) attempts," he said. "If there've been major life changes, like loss of a loved one or a job, divorce, access to firearms - those are all risk factors."
Is there a difference between the blues - what Karen Carpenter and thousands of others sing about - and depression?
"You have to distinguish between normal sadness and grief and depression," he said. "Depression is a normal human emotion. If your dog dies, you should feel sad. But if, because of that, you're not showering, not going to work, not getting out of bed," then you should consider talking to a professional.
"If you're not able to think as well as usual, or if your cognition is down - those are signs of depression," he said.
Dr. Snow, of North Raleigh Psychiatry, said he is glad that people are talking openly about depression and suicide. "People are looking at it now because all of these famous people are killing themselves," he said. "I said to my wife 'There are a lot more people with no name killing themselves right now" than famous people.
Instead of telling my childhood friend that he had nothing to be depressed about, we had a deep conversation that belied our youth. I told him that he had a lot to live for and that his parents would be destroyed if he harmed himself.
I thought, at the end of our conversation, that he was in a better place.
He died in a one-car crash within weeks of our conversation.
Was it an accident?
I'll never know. I do know that, even though that was more than 40 years ago, I still miss my friend and think of him often.
The telephone number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
Whenever people wonder how a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain, bold-faced names of people who seemed to have it all figured out, can kill themselves, I think of the poem "Richard Cory" by Edward Arlington Robinson:
Whenever Richard Cory went down town, We people on the pavement looked at him: He was a gentleman from sole to crown, Clean favored, and imperially slim. And he was always quietly arrayed, And he was always human when he talked; But still he fluttered pulses when he said, 'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked. And he was rich - yes, richer than a king - And admirably schooled in every grace: In fine, we thought that he was everything To make us wish that we were in his place. So on we worked, and waited for the light, And went without the meat, and cursed the bread; And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, Went home and put a bullet through his head.