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One week, 2 tragic deaths, and alarming stats on suicide: America, this is a wake-up call.

Since 1999, suicide rates in the United States have risen nearly 30%.

One week, 2 tragic deaths, and alarming stats on suicide: America, this is a wake-up call.

After two devastating celebrity suicides, the country is talking about the profound impact of mental health issues.

Designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef and television host Anthony Bourdain both died by suicide within just a few days of each other. It's two headline-grabbing instances indicative of a terrifying situation in our country.

Photos by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images (left) and Mark Mainz/Getty Images (right).


While celebrities garner wide attention when suicide and mental health issues occur, it's an epidemic faced by millions of everyday Americans on a large scale. A recent CDC report on suicide in the United States shows that since 1999, suicide rates in the United States have risen nearly 30%.

54% of the people who died by suicide weren't previously diagnosed with a mental health issue. But it's more complicated than that.

According to David Brent, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, it's important to understand there wasn't a known mental illness for 54% of those who killed themselves — meaning those struggling with a mental illness may not have known they had one.

"The reason most suicide decedents don’t have a known mental disorder is that they were never diagnosed, not that they didn’t have one," Brent writes in an email.

"It has been established over and over again that 90% of individuals who die by suicide have at least one, and often more than one, major mental disorder through psychological autopsy studies," Brent adds. "So the idea that one’s life circumstances, or availability of lethal agents, can drive one to suicide certainly can happen."

Brent brings up an interesting point that many struggle to understand when famous celebrities end their own lives. Suicide is not limited to those who are struggling financially, have unfulfilling jobs, or have mundane lives. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to live an extremely wealthy life with continuous success and still struggle. Mental illness and suicide do not discriminate. They can affect all people.

Photo via iStock.

The surprising reality of challenges that famous people experience behind the scenes can be hard to understand. Bourdain was open about his struggles with drug addiction and depression, but it's unclear of how much professional support Bourdain had before his death. After Kate Spade's death, reports noted that the designer struggled with mental illness for years but refrained from seeking help because of fears that it would hurt her "happy" brand. Celebs and regular citizens should feel able and empowered to seek help.

Society must continue to foster a culture that doesn't stigmatize those seeking mental health services so they aren't afraid in the first place.

As suicide rates across the nation continue to climb, experts continue to note the importance of reaching out for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

"We have worked really hard to explain to the public that suicide is not simply a matter of too much stress but that it involves the identification and treatment of mental disorders as one important component," Brent writes.

The conversation on how to prevent suicide and address the mental illnesses that often precede them is ongoing and complex. After all, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment.

We have the capacity to address mental health and reduce suicides — and we need to learn how to make that happen.

"I believe that we know enough to prevent suicide now," Brent writes. "Suicide is not going up in every country. Work from While et al. (2012) and Kapur et al. (2016) has demonstrated that improvements in how mental health care is delivered can reduce suicide in the U.K. In the Henry Ford Hospital System, an approach called Zero Suicide Initiative has been shown to dramatically reduce the suicide rate among individuals in their system with mental health disorders. There are evidence based prevention programs that can substantially reduce the rate of conditions that lead to suicide: criminality, violence, depression, substance abuse [such as] Good Behavior Game, for example or YAMS, Wasserman et al., Lancet, now being implemented in Montana."

In addition to the resources Brent suggests, it's also important to show up for those around us who are struggling. Numerous researchers and suicide prevention experts suggest showing struggling friends and family support without judgment, asking specific questions, and suggesting seeking professional help.

And if you yourself are struggling, know that there are immediate resources available if you're in a crisis. There are many organizations to become familiar with, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255, the Crisis Text Line (text "HOME" to 741741), and the Trevor Project 866-488-7386.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less