Loneliness and Mental Health

The death of Anthony Bourdain by apparent suicide earlier this month was a huge shock to me. Bourdain was a tremendously successful celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian and television personality, and was considered one of the most influential chefs in the world. Bourdain was much more than a chef – to me he was a global leader. He was a cultural ambassador whose programs not only focused on the exploration of international cuisine, but also helped to shine a light on international culture. He had a penchant to tread the unknown paths, and visit countries that the mainstream media paid little or no attention to. His amazing gift to sit down with anyone and everyone over a kitchen table and get them to open up about everyday life provided him, and thus his audience, a unique perspective to explore and examine the human condition.

Bourdain died in the prime of his life. Looking in from the outside, he had an amazing life and career. Yet, as we see time and time again with mental health, the public face he presented was not an accurate reflection of his internal state of mind. I have been reflecting on this point since the sad news broke, and it highlighted to me the high degree of loneliness – a lack of meaningful social interaction – many people must face in their daily lives. We are told we are more interconnected today than any other time in history, yet we see people battling their ‘demons’ alone not able to reach out for help. I don’t want to speculate on Bourdain’s particular circumstances, but during his final days he was filming with a good friend, surrounded by his colleagues, and doing what he loved. Depression and its abruptness, may have also played a significant role, but it is a tragedy that these events are becoming increasingly more common around the world.

Suicide is a complex issue and I wanted to share my thoughts not with the goal of providing answers, but simply as a small gesture – to share some of my inner world with the outer world. With that in mind, my reflections this month got me thinking back to a conference I attended a number of years ago at which Martin Seligman was the keynote speaker. Seligman is commonly known as the father of positive psychology and his research has been a great source of personal inspiration for me. Seligman’s research has shown that the simple exercise of having gratitude for three things in your life before you go to sleep at night (either voicing these to yourself or writing them down) and for three things you are going to do each day when you wake up in the morning – can shift your attitude and thinking in a positive direction. I have been practising this exercise for a numbers of years and it is now one of my daily practices. Personally, it helps serve as an important reminder that no matter how bad things are there are lots of thing to be grateful for.

Most of us are well aware of what is required to look after our physical health, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about our mental health. We have a long way to go, but I believe little mental health exercises, like the one above, are an important step towards this future. Have you tried this exercise before? What other mental health exercises do you practice?

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