In recent years, mental health advocates have been pushing for a small, but significant, change in the way we report on suicide: “Do not write ‘committed suicide’— the term is ‘died by suicide,’” organizations like the WHO suggest. That signals a shift away from the stigma that taking one’s own life is a hurtful, selfish, or even criminal act, and towards compassion for the victims who couldn’t go on any longer and for those they leave behind. Today, actress and advocate Rose McGowan released an open letter, reportedly written on behalf of her friend Asia Argento, addressing the death of Anthony Bourdain this past Friday that’s very much in line with that recommendation.
Bourdain’s death by suicide was shocking to many who admired him, and who found it incomprehensible that such a curious person, someone who seemed to deeply love life, could decide that they had had enough of it. And when something is that terrifyingly incomprehensible, it’s human nature to start looking for explanations. For scapegoats. McGowan’s open letter is a reminder that we should resist this urge, out of respect not only for the dead but for their survivors—like Argento, who was dating Bourdain at the time of his death and who has been the subject of speculation (particularly in the European tabloid press, which was similarly unkind after Argento revealed she had been raped by ex-movie mogul Harvey Weinstein) that she, or problems in their relationship, were somehow responsible for Bourdain’s suicide.
It’s also a reminder that telling someone to “reach out,” while well-intentioned, is only part of the equation, as McGowan says Bourdain did seek medical help for his depression before his death. That’s a point that’s been made many times over in the past few days, by people who have survived suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts and who shared what helped them through on social media. (You can read some of those threads here.)
Suicide is tragic. It’s confusing for those who are left behind. But it’s never an excuse to lash out in anger: “You must not sink to that level. Suicide is a horrible choice, but it is that person’s choice,” McGowan writes. The whole letter, which was sent to The A.V. Club along with other members of the press in an email, is below.
Dear Fellow Humans,
Sitting across from me is the remarkable human and brave survivor, Asia Argento, who has been through more than most could stand, and yet stand she does. She stood up to her monster rapist and now she has to stand up to yet another monster, suicide. The suicide of her beloved lover and ally, Anthony Bourdain. I write these truths because I have been asked to. I know so many around the world thought of Anthony Bourdain as a friend and when a friend dies, it hurts. Many of these people who lost their ‘friend’ are wanting to lash out and blame. You must not sink to that level. Suicide is a horrible choice, but it is that person’s choice.
When Anthony met Asia, it was instant chemistry. They laughed, they loved and he was her rock during the hardships of this last year. Anthony was open with his demons, he even wrote a book about them. In the beginning of their relationship, Anthony told a mutual friend, “He’s never met anyone who wanted to die more than him.” And through a lot of this last year, Asia did want the pain to stop. But here’s the thing, over their time together, thankfully, she did the work to get help, so she could stay alive and live another day for her and her children. Anthony’s depression didn’t let him, he put down his armor, and that was very much his choice. His decision, not hers. His depression won. Anthony and Asia had a free relationship, they loved without borders of traditional relationships, and they established the parameters of their relationship early on. Asia is a free bird, and so was Anthony. Was. Such a terrible word to write. I’ve heard from many that the past two years they were together were some of his happiest and that should give us all solace.
Anthony was 61, the same age my father was when he died. My father also suffered from intermittent deep depression, and like Anthony, was part of a “pull up your bootstraps and march on” generation. The a “strong man doesn’t ask for help” generation. I know before Anthony died he reached out for help, and yet he did not take the doctor’s advice. And that has led us here, to this tragedy, to this loss, to this world of hurt. Do NOT do the sexist thing and burn a woman on the pyre of misplaced blame. Anthony’s internal war was his war, but now she’s been left on the battlefield to take the bullets. It is in no way fair or acceptable to blame her or anyone else, not even Anthony. We are asking you to be better, to look deeper, to read and learn about mental illness, suicide and depression before you make it worse for survivors by judging that which we do not understand, that which can never fully be understood. Sometimes we are stuck in the unknowable, and that is where we are now, a massive wave of darkness that threatens to swallow everyone in its wake.
As I watch Asia do her job on set today, I see a pillar of strength who continues to work to put food on her children’s table. I see Elizabeth Taylor carrying on filming Cat on a Hot Tin Roof despite her love, her husband, dying in a plane crash. I see all of us who have carried on. Please join me in sending healing energy to Anthony on his journey, and to all who’ve been left behind to journey on without him. There is no one to blame but the stigma of loneliness, the stigma of asking for help, the stigma of mental illness, the stigma of being famous and hurting.
We must do more and be better. Anthony, our friend, would want it that way.
To the media and to the random commenter, Anthony would never have wanted Asia to be hurt, I’d like to think he would want us to have the collective conversation that needs to be had about depression. Blame is NOT a conversation, it is the shutting down of our collective growth. Which is where we are now. We have a choice as humans, shrink to our smaller, uglier selves, or be better and grow as only true Phoenixes can. I urge you to be that Phoenix.
With great sadness and even greater hope, I remain,
cc: Asia Argento
If you are considering suicide, reach out. We need you here. You matter. You exist. You count. There is help a phone call away, reach out.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.