What Anthony Bourdain’s Suicide Means for the Muslim Community

A few days ago, we heard about Kate Spade’s death, and then Anthony Bourdain’s suicide took over the news today. The most common line all over social media is a shocked, “But they seemed so happy?

Kate Spade was a fashion icon who launched an empire built on whimsical bags and accessories. The world was stunned when she was found dead at age 55, only a couple of days ago. Her husband revealed that she had been battling depression for 35 years and was regularly taking medication.

Her long time friend Elyce Arons said that “[Kate] really felt she could power through it on her own…”

And then earlier today, we found out that a dearly beloved culinary icon, Anthony Bourdain, was found dead at 61 of apparent suicide. He was a man with a gift for storytelling, a passionate chef, and revolutionary voice in international justice causes around the world. In his global series, Parts Unknown, he brought viewers along with him to explore not only food, but the people and the families behind it. He was referred to as, “irreverent, honest, curious, never condescending, never obsequious,” and that “People open up to him and, in doing so, often reveal more about their hometowns or homelands than a traditional reporter could hope to document.”

Bourdain showcased Africa as the center of civilization, and further broke down barriers for people to explore basic human needs through food in different parts of the world. He was in Lebanon when the war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel and showcased nothing but love and compassion for the struggles of the people of Gaza.

“The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity.” -Anthony Bourdain

It wasn’t just about the food; it was about the community. He passed the mic to so many marginalized people, where mainstream media can be muffling. He received many awards in his lifetime. One that really stood out for the Muslim Community, was when he won the 2014 Muslim Public Affairs Council Voice of Courage and Conscience Media Awards for his work in Gaza. In his acceptance speech, he said, “I was enormously grateful for the response from Palestinians in particular for doing what seemed to me an ordinary thing, something we do all the time: show regular people doing everyday things, cooking and enjoying meals, playing with their children, talking about their lives, their hopes and dreams, It is a measure I guess of how twisted and shallow our depiction of a people is that these images come as a shock to so many. The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity.”

Celebrities, political leaders, and activists were shocked by his death, sharing videos and clips throughout the day in remembrance. Former President Barack Obama wrote, “Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.” This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”

Depression doesn’t pick and choose who it takes, it goes after all of us in different ways – but we need to build communities of support. You cannot pray away mental illness, you cannot pray away trauma from rape, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts. 

We aren’t just mourning a food connoisseur, as Muslims, we are mourning the death of a dear brother. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (to God we belong, and to Him we shall return).

Depression doesn’t pick and choose who it takes, it goes after all of us in different ways – but we need to build communities of support. You cannot pray away mental illness, you cannot pray away trauma from rape, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts. Muslim community tells us that depression is a test, and its a time to focus even harder on how to get close to God. What happens when praying doesn’t make nightmares go away? What happens when praying doesn’t help you get out of bed and take care of your children? Depression leads to self-descriptive behaviors and suicidal ideations. Those who struggle with mental illness aren’t bad Muslims, they just need more help and support right now. We all need help at different points in our lives, and it is terrifying asking for help when you can not tangibly measure in a doctor’s test, it’s all just “in your head.”


Are Conversations About Mental Health Different in 2018?

This year, there is a shift in how we are talking about suicide. The twitter memorials aren’t just photos and shock; celebrities are disclosing their own battles with mental illness and sharing suicide hotlines. People are using their powerful platforms to let those still living, and battling their own demons, know that they are not alone. Gordon Ramsey wrote,

“Stunned and saddened by the loss of Anthony Bourdain. He brought the world into our homes and inspired so many people to explore cultures and cities through their food. Remember that help is a phone call away US: 1-800-273-TALK UK: 116 123”

Mental illness affects each person differently; some need medication coupled with therapy, others need medication for a shorter time, or no medication at all. It is not easy to live with a severe mental illness, and you need a consistently strong support system in place. Most individuals say they need to try different medications to finally find one that is a good fit for them. We go to doctors when we have challenges in our body, why not go when we have challenges in our thoughts? Mental health is personal health.

Medication for mental health challenges usually needs to be taken in combination with therapy to get to the root of the concern. When feeling depressive feelings coupled with substance abuse in the form of alcohol or other drugs, that is when you need to take a step back and see what is it that you may be numbing.

The world is harsh, we are all just trying to get through it day by day. We need to start the conversation about mental illness early within Muslim communities. Once we see more psychological education, taboos can be lifted with conversations about these difficult thoughts, how to manage moments of crisis, and how to support family and friends. Mental health challenges do not discriminate against age, wealth, skin color, or how devout we may see ourselves; it is a public health issue that affects all of us.


What can we do now?

Mothers need to talk to their daughters. Fathers need to talk to their sons. We need to talk to our children about suicide and depression and tell them they aren’t alone, that we all had times where the world was falling on us, and if they cannot talk to us, we can get them counselors. Instead of coming from a conservative place and saying “suicide is haram, don’t ever talk about it” we need to begin these hard conversations.

This isn’t just about preventing the act of suicide, it’s about offering healing for the steps that lead one to act self-destructively. There is no cookie cutter image of what someone with self-destructive thoughts talks and acts like.

Below are some resources for therapists who may better understand the different layers of our culture. Some therapists even offer over-the-phone support if you are not be able to go to them directly. You can find a therapist who is a female, male, younger, older, and of any culture that makes you feel safe and comfortable.

At Muslim Girl, we are here for you. You are not alone.


Institute for Muslim Mental Health


Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255