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 percent 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.”