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Anthony Bourdain, Suicide, and Loneliness
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Anthony Bourdain, Suicide, and Loneliness

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USA — June 9, 2018

He was 61. It happened when he was working  on an upcoming episode of his award-winning CNN series, “Parts Unknown” in France. His friend Eric Ripert, a French chef, found Bourdain's body in his hotel room Friday morning.

Bourdain's death shook television viewers around the world.

"Tony was a symphony," his friend and fellow chef Andrew Zimmern

“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,” the network said in an official CNN statement.

"My heart breaks for Tony Bourdain," CNN's international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, wrote on Twitter. "May he rest in peace now."

President Donald Trump also extended his condolences to Bourdain's family on Friday morning. "I enjoyed his show," Trump said. "He was quite a character."

Bourdain started to work for CNN five years ago.

He was a master of his respective crafts— first in the kitchen and then in the media. He was a show host, helping audiences think differently about food, travel and themselves. He advocated for marginalized populations and campaigned for safer working conditions for restaurant staff.

THERE IS ONE REASON FOR THIS DISEASE: AN ALL-EMBRACING CHAOS

CNN confirmed Bourdain’s death on Friday and said the cause of death was suicide.

His death came days after fashion designer Kate Spade's suicide.

Suicide is a growing problem in the United States. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased by 30% across the country since 1999 to ending in 2016.

Scientists have long been trying to understand the causes of such frequent suicides. Among them anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness. It has struck down people all over the world.

For example, certain studies have shown that suicide rates have risen along the ownership of smartphones and use of social media.

From 2010 to 2015, a record number of people were reporting depressive symptoms and overloading mental health clinics, while suicide rates climbed for the first time in decades, said psychologist Jean Twenge.

“I’ve never seen such sudden, large changes,” she said, noting that the biggest increase occurred within a single year.

There are many secondary reasons for this distress, but we have to look deeper into the issue. People spend their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament, they instruct us to stand on our own two feet.

We begin our lives since our youngest school years, in a desperate race to constantly try and achieve something. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves.

Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress? A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.

If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.

Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.

It is not hard to see what the evolutionary reasons for social pain might be. Survival among social mammals is greatly enhanced when they are strongly bonded with the rest of the pack. It is the isolated and marginalised animals that are most likely to be picked off by predators, or to starve. Just as physical pain protects us from physical injury, emotional pain protects us from social injury. It drives us to reconnect. But many people find this almost impossible.

It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.

Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?

There are some wonderful charities doing what they can to fight this tide, some of which I am going to be working with as part of my loneliness project. But for every person they reach, several others are swept past.

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. Ultimately, we stand together or we fall apart.

Author: USA Really