After Celebrity Deaths, Suicide Hotline Calls Jump 25%


As the world learned the news Friday that renowned chef and food writer

Anthony Bourdain

had died by apparent suicide, the same phone number flooded the internet.

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-8255—was pinned to the bottom of memorial Instagram posts, shared in tweets and ran alongside news obituaries.

Whenever a notable person commits suicide, calls to the hotline spike, said Director

John Draper.

Just days before Mr. Bourdain’s death, news of another famous person had spread: handbag designer Kate Spade, whose apparent cause of death was also suicide. Calls jumped 25% in the two days after her death, compared with the same period the previous week, Mr. Draper said.

People often feel connected to celebrities, whether it be through something like a television program or a product they purchased. When a celebrity dies, Mr. Draper said, there can be a “collective sense of loss that many people feel.”

The increase in calls that hotlines experience isn’t necessarily a direct result of hearing about a celebrity suicide, said

Alan Ross,

executive director of Samaritans suicide prevention center in New York. In many cases, individuals are already struggling with mental health and the news of a death prompts them to seek help.

“The random number of things that can stimulate people who are already likely to get worse is so varied,” he said. “When there is promotion and marketing and in some ways acceptance, yeah, it does drive people to reach out.”

The national hotline is a network of crisis centers that provide over-the-phone counseling to individuals who might be contemplating suicide. Calls to the national lifeline are directed to centers near the caller where they can talk to trained counselors. The lifeline has a network of more than 150 local crisis centers.

“The research is really clear that these calls have been shown to reduce emotional distress and suicidal crisis,” Mr. Draper said.

New York City’s own crisis center—NYC Well—was launched in October 2016 and has since handled more than 340,000 calls, texts, chats and online mobile crisis referrals, according to a report released last month by the New York City Department of Health.

Of the monthly contacts to NYC Well, 12% are for crisis situations, 41% for information and referral to behavioral health services, and 46% for immediate support from a counselor or peer support specialist, according to the report.

New York residents seeking support for mental health conditions or substance abuse for themselves or their loved ones can call 1-888-NYC-WELL or text “WELL” to 65173.

First lady of New York City

Chirlane McCray,

who heads the city’s mental health and substance misuse efforts, has been vocal on social media and television this week following the two celebrity deaths.

“This week has been painful for so many New Yorkers,” Ms. McCray said in a statement late Saturday. “Too many of our people suffer in silence. It’s never a wrong time to have a conversation about mental health and to make sure that our loved ones, and friends are safe and getting the help they may need.”

The resources available to those experiencing suicidal thoughts are numerous—from lifelines and online chat rooms to locating nearby health services and making a safety plan. The most important thing, Mr. Ross said, is that people find a way to get help that they are comfortable with.

“Everyone can find something that is acceptable to them, so there is no reason not to get help or connect with someone,” he said.



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