Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018): On Mental Health & Checking In


Anthony Bourdain was not only a world class chef, author, and pioneer; he was a vessel using his culinary knowledge, love of food, and empathy to bridge the gap between different worlds.

Through his many explorations and deep compassion for the human condition, he demonstrated that maybe we humans, separated by land and sea, are not so different in this great and vast world

The aftermath of Mr. Bourdain’s death has furthered conversations around mental health and suicide; some ranging from the benign to the downright ghastly.  In some of these discussions, there seems to be a marked lack of emotional intelligence or any semblance of digging deep and it is disheartening.  A common sentiment shared across social media is around the act of ‘checking in.’

Checking in on your friends sounds great in theory; but shouldn’t people reflect on the type of support they provide versus just theorizing about it? What constitutes checking in?  What does support from you look like?  Is it just a "hey, how are you doing” then you wait for a response? What if the person says ‘fine’, what’s next? Is it business as usual? Since mental health issues varies from sufferer to sufferer, as people often remark “well he/she looked so happy,” then arguably aren’t people already doing their version of checking in? Is it possible that their ‘checking in’ is just small talk? We all should reflect on and consider if our checking is more about ourselves, an opportunity to assuage our feelings of guilt, or about something going on in our lives.

In the event a sufferer does open up to you, how do you respond? Do you really hear them out? Do you attempt to diagnose them, diminish them, or demean their coping mechanisms? Do you ‘power of positive thoughts’ them to death? Do you use their issues against them?  Do you do what you can to recalibrate the conversation back to ‘positive energy’ when the person just needs to be heard? How strong are your listening skills?  How sensitive are you to others' needs? How capable are you of not centering yourself?

This is not about good or bad, blame, or judgment. The reality is some people are more equipped to be support systems and some people simply aren’t. While everyone in the world is wired differently and there will be some sufferers who will require more practicality, given the rate at which suicide is growing, maybe employing a bit more mindfulness is key and people could work on being better listeners.  There has to be a reason people suffering feel alone and do not disclose; it’s not always merely self-inflicted. Maybe for some, the lack of disclosure has less to do with being embarrassed about their pain, and may result from feelings of disappointment or being unheard thereby leading to a lack of trust in whoever they would be sharing with.

We all do have a responsibility to ourselves.  Mental health sufferers have to do the work to reach some form of healing.  Unfortunately for many people, that will be ongoing over the course of their lives. However, if you are going to pay lip service about ‘checking in’, please also take the time to reflect on what that might entail and are you capable of committing to it. Seeking help from a medical professional is paramount, but having good and mindful friends can ease the way. If you are reading this and still have internalized this as a difference between good or bad, is about blame, or etc., would like to remind you that not everything is about you.

Anthony Bourdain, the universe just got a hell of a lot darker without you in it.  The saying goes that with great power comes great responsibility; but sometimes that responsibility is not just about the impact one has on others, but also how much the weight of that responsibility impacts the bearer of it.  You have given the world so much, pouring from your own cup.  Maybe, just maybe, the world didn’t pour enough back enough into you. 

It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
— John Steinbeck

Anthony Michael Bourdain (1956-2018)