Writing in the June 9 Style article about the suicide of the ultimate food adventurer, Anthony Bourdain, Tim Carman sounded a false note [“Anthony Bourdain: Part epicurean, part Everyman”]. He wrote of Bourdain’s contrition over a book and then stated, “I don’t know where Tony’s apparent suicide falls on this moral compass.” I’ll say. Suicide is most often associated with mood disorders and has no demonstrable link to morality. To assume this false connection is part of the problem.
People who face mental illness do not need confession and absolution concerning moral issues. They do not need to be judged, ignored, isolated or otherwise punished. What they desperately need is professional medical treatment, an affirming community and every kind of support imaginable. Research and technology have provided us with more knowledge than ever. But we don’t seem much interested. And the wealthiest country on Earth thinks it can’t afford it.
Forty years ago, I honestly thought that the United States was headed in the direction of universal health care, including regular emotional health assessment for all. I was wrong. But today’s notion of health policy is wronger yet. The professional mental-health community is convinced that most mental illness can be successfully treated and many suicides can be prevented. The United States’ flaw has always been its refusal to value the health of its people above the health of its profits. It is long past time to stop pretending to be surprised. It is time to end the cultural anesthesia of indifference. The people of this country could make significant advances on this front.
In 1960, novelist Harper Lee published “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Part of her magic was to weave together the lives of Finch kids Scout and Jem and their neighbor Boo Radley. Right in front of our eyes, they became more than neighbors: They were friends and family taking care of each other. Perhaps they saved each other. That was almost 60 years ago. It is no fiction to assert that now is our time to escape the hiddenness and be out in the open to save each other’s lives. Sixty years has been inexcusably long to wait. This is a failure of imagination.
Gerald Patrick Coleman, Washington