I’ve Struggled With Mental Health, Too: A Food Writer’s Reflection on Anthony Bourdain

Reflecting on a celebrity's passing
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Turner

Early today, the heartbreaking news broke that Anthony Bourdain, an icon of all things food, travel, and culture, took his own life at the age of 61.

Bourdain’s literal appetite for life, cuisine, and the study of how people around the world break bread together made foodies out of us all. Not satisfied to talk people through recipes in front of a camera, he instead explored the way people grow, eat, and share food across continents with a hunger and zest for life that only adds to the devastating confusion as to why he would take his own in the middle of taping his trademark and award-winning show, CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

Whenever a celebrity speaks out about mental health or an icon takes their own life, the public is often shocked into realizing just how serious of an issue mental health is for people we’d never “expect” to be afflicted with any sort of internal anguish so great that it wants them dead. For every heartbreaking loss and empowering message, there are millions of people represented, people who are invisible or who don’t feel like there are any other options.

I was one of those people, for a long time. Growing up with misdiagnosed and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, I considered suicide for years but never gave up hope that, one day, the right doctor would figure out what was wrong and treat me with the right medication and type of therapy. It took 10 years, but I finally found my road to recovery. It wasn’t an easy journey, and it was one that filled almost 500 pages.What kept me going until then were two things: love for and from my family, and my dream of being a journalist. While working one of my first jobs out of college at a local paper, my then-editor asked if I’d start covering food stories.

Although I hardly considered myself a food critic, I had spent my entire life eating in New York City restaurants, was good at researching and interviewing, and always wanted to know more — more information that could inspire people or help them learn. So I thought about what I would most want to know when writing about food and how I could help others in the process. It could be something small, like which restaurant was best for a date night, or it could be the story of how one chef made it his mission to help feed hungry kids whose parents couldn’t afford the time or money to help make them breakfast.

In creating, and in writing about these creators, my world continued to open up, and I continued to see how much bigger life was than just myself, my own problems. I visited the dough room in pizzerias and spoke to chefs who began their careers as science majors in grad schools. My relationship to food itself also expanded — when you quit drinking and cigarettes, your appetite grows. I went from a picky eater who couldn’t get halfway through her meal after downing three martinis to a woman who has had her moments blindly ordering one of almost everything.

We can’t presume to know what could have helped Bourdain or anyone else who is struggling. What we do know is that today the world lost the man who shared what restaurant kitchens were really like and how their staffs actually ran them. We lost a native New Yorker, a Culinary Institute of America alumni, the star of award-winning TV shows and the author of several bestselling books.

We lost the man who said he’d like to see local farmers more empowered and people more interested and aware of where their food comes from, who fed his daughter almost exclusively organic food.

He left us with the notion that the cooking profession is a noble craft because you're doing something useful in feeding and nurturing people, and the food for thought in the bold statement that without new ideas, success can become stale.

His legacy was great and could never quite be contained in any number of books, articles, documentaries, or other forms of tribute that will be paid to him in the near future.

In his words, we want you to remember this: Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life.

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small,” Bourdain once said. “And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

Yours is a life worth living, so please, never give up hope.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741-741.

Helaina Hovitz is an editor, writer, and content strategist who has recounted her experiences with PTSD following 9/11 in her memoir, After 9/11.