“Parts Unknown” / by sangeeta dey


I wonder if the title of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown”, was about the show, or was it really about the person himself, who we only knew through the show…a fascinating guy who was not afraid to express his views or travel to lesser known destinations. Regardless, it is hard to ignore the irony in the name of the show. It also tells us that the entirety of America’s favorite traveler--or any person for that matter—was not captured by what we saw, or we thought we saw. There will always be parts unknown. A lot of people hailed him as their role-model or a hero when it came to travelling. I will not say the same. He was not my hero in that sense. My travels to these little know destinations had begun years before Mr. Bourdain’s first travel show ever aired. Like Mr. Bourdain, I was never afraid to sit on the side of the street on plastic stools to share a meal with locals, whether it was in a tiny town in Myanmar or a street side stall in a small village in Bolivia where fresh catch of the day was less than 10 cents. What Mr. Bourdain did do for me was he normalized the experience of people like us who chose to go to destinations that nobody would. His empathy and fascination with other cultures made it easier for the western world to be a little less judgmental about people we know little of. In that sense, I saw him as a brand ambassador for fearless travelers. 

His sudden demise was shocking, specially as it came right after the news about Kate Spade. Most of the posts that popped up grieving their loss were more like, “but why, they had it all?.” A few weeks ago, I had read an article about what happens when a person is drowning. I was shocked to read that unlike Hollywood representation of drowning that shows a person kicking and screaming for help when they are drowning, most of the drowning happens silently. It happens so quickly that people who are even a few feet away would not be able to realize that a person is drowning or just drowned. I wish our society would understand that certain mental health issues are somewhat similar to drowning. Our society is to blame to make the term “depression” so much a part of our regular vocabulary that we fail to recognize that it is a serious disorder, something that is beyond the control of the person dealing with it. Clinical depression is not the same as someone reporting that they are feeling depressed because of bad weather, or they found a certain movie too depressing. Depression, specially treatment resistant depression is seriously disabling. The neurotransmitters in these brain are constantly telling the person that there is no light at the end of the tunnel and the only way out is by ending one’s life. People like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade didn’t have depression. Depression had them. 

A lot of posts provided hotline numbers for depressed people to call for help. We all know that people like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams knew that they can call someone, but they couldn’t. It is like expecting a drowning person to call life guards or call 911. Yes, they had it all, but they also had a severely debilitating condition that they were unable to find a way out of, not at that moment. There are so many public health policies that need our attention to address mental health issues, but we can start by educating ourselves with signs and symptoms of this disorder. As a mental health professional, I can tell you right away to never ask these people to “cheer up”, as it just shows that the person’s depression is something that they are in control of. They are not. Let’s start by showing empathy, acceptance and understanding to people who are struggling with it, and not just by posting a hotline number.