SCHENECTADY -- The owners of a local bar and restaurant, in reaction to the death of food icon Anthony Bourdain, have launched an effort to help suicide prevention programs.
Bourdain's death on Friday was the second high profile suicide this week. Fashion innovator Kate Spade took her own life Tuesday. And a study released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed a significant increase in the suicide rate nationally.
The owners of Slidin’ Dirty, a restaurant on State Street, announced on Friday they will donate all proceeds from the sale of a new cocktail, called “Better Than Death,” to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Jeff Buell, a Schenectady resident and philanthropist, has pledged to match those donations dollar for dollar.
The cocktail, according to Slidin' Dirty general manager Alex Berta, was inspired by Bourdain. It consists of mezcal, amaro and orange bitters. Bourdain was known to be fond of Negroni cocktails.
“For me personally, this whole issue hits home really super hard,” Berta said. “The idea of being a successful 61-year-old human being and still having to struggle through this on a regular basis, it’s just mind blowing. I woke up today and I just couldn’t deal, so this is the best thing I could think of doing.”
Suicide rates vary widely by county, according to CDC data. New York has the second-lowest overall suicide rate in the nation, but rural upstate counties see higher rates than the state average.
Suicide among people younger than 34 in New York state is now the second-leading cause of death, according to the most recent CDC data.
Amy Molloy, project director at the Mental Health Association in New York state, said more research is needed to determine the underlying causes of the rising suicide rate, both statewide and nationally.
"When we see rises in things like suicide or mental illness, we ask is it really an increased prevalence, or is it that we've gotten better at tracking data and at identifying a suicide when it's a suicide," Molloy said. "So for many years, generations in fact, [suicide] was really taboo ... People would report deaths as something other than suicide because they wanted to protect the family. So when we see a rise in rates, it's hard for us to know if it's truly an increase or if it's the result of this cultural shift, where we really have been more comfortable talking about mental illness, and substance abuse, and suicide."
As for the disparity in regional suicide rates from cities to rural counties, Molloy pointed to three main contributing factors that agencies like hers have honed in on to understand some of the causes. Social isolation is often more prevalent in rural communities, as is access to firearms. At the same time, there is often less access to mental health services in rural areas.
Molloy said it is a good idea, in the wake of high-profile suicides like those experienced this week, to check in with family members.
"Too often, there's sort of this myth that if you ask this question [of thoughts of suicide], you're going to put the idea [of suicide] in their head," Molloy said. "But this isn't a bad time to say, 'Gosh, there's been a lot of attention to suicide in the media lately, and I'm just wondering, how are you doing? Are you having thoughts of suicide?'"
On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a campaign to raise awareness of suicide through the Office of Mental Health. The program will tap a $3.5 million federal grant to expand the state's suicide prevention infrastructure.
The Suicide Prevention Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Experts recommend offering to call the line with a loved one if that person is apprehensive about calling.