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The painful riddle of suicide

CNN's Anthony Bourdain with a crew at a

CNN's Anthony Bourdain with a crew at a restaurant in Colmar, France, on June 4. Credit: AP / Etienne Butterlin

When a man who appears to be experiencing so much joy, living his days in a way that from the outside looks like an endless vacation, takes his own life, how can we make sense of it?

CNN’s Anthony Bourdain, 61, committed suicide Friday, hanging himself in a hotel room in France. The news stunned his friends and family, and fans around the world. Bourdain, first a New York City chef and then an author and TV star, swashbuckled across the globe, exploring food and culture and partaking of all the world has to offer, with style, a touch of spirituality and an unflinchingly rebellious air.

When a woman whose name has become synonymous with a certain elegance and style, whose legacy is assured and whose husband and daughter are adoring, takes her own life, how can we make sense of it? Kate Spade, 55, committed suicide Tuesday, hanging herself in the bedroom of her New York City apartment.

We often can’t make sense of it, not when they’re famous and not when they’re faceless.

Suicide is always a permanent response to what may be a temporary problem. Given treatment or time, the circumstances that drive people to take their own lives often relent. Depression can subside. Mental illness frequently responds to treatment and medication, as does substance abuse. For the living, financial disasters, loneliness, the sting of tragedy and the fog of despair might lift.

We are conditioned to believe that the main human struggle is for food and shelter and security, but suicide often shows us a different truth. The United States is as prosperous a place as has ever existed, yet more than 45,000 of its residents took their own lives in 2016.

Suicide in this nation has jumped 30 percent since 1999.

Something is wrong. Too many of us are losing our moorings, coming undone. And there is no easy fix. But we can connect today. We can love each other today, and be respectful when love is impossible. We can reach out instead of pulling back. We can be “we,” a community, rather than just “I,” struggling alone.

Helping each other mourn, we come together beautifully. Can we not do as well helping each other live?

— The editorial board