Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral First in Decades

Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral First in Decades

Dominique Venner, 78, shot and killed himself inside the famed Notre Dame Cathedral, the first suicide in the 850-year old Gothic tourist attraction.  The Tuesday incident was the first suicide there in decades.

Venner, a self-described essayist and historian whose blog describes him as opposing France’s new law authorizing gay marriage, left a letter on the altar and shot himself. Authorities are not releasing the details of the letter.

Paris’ historic cathedral was cleared of some 1,500 visitors.

Suicide is still stigmatized by many, especially by those who do not understand the mental disorders, mood disorders, or substance abuse behind the act.  Even those who have been touched by suicide have a difficult time comprehending how their loved ones can take their own life.

Burt Bacharach, 84, the award-winning composer, knows all too well of the heartbreak of suicide.  His daughter Nikki, with former wife Angie Dickinson, killed herself at age 40.

Bacharach has written his memoir exploring his life, including his past marriages, and the life of his troubled daughter. Nikki, who was born prematurely at one-pound, 10 ounces, grew up with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.  Asperger’s syndrome is newly defined as a form of autism in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to Bacharach, his daughter left him a note when she committed suicide, but he has refused to read it, “I know exactly what’s in the note. I never read the note. I never will.  There is no need to read it. I already know what she said.”  (abcnews.go)

National Mental Health Month

For 64 years, since 1949, May has been celebrated as National Mental Health Month.  This year’s theme is Pathways to Wellness and the focus is the mental health of young people.

When most people think of mental health, they seem to think of the opposite; they have a tendency to think of people who are mentally ill.  However, everyone can benefit from focusing on his or her mental health.

Mental Health America has a four-step plan to encourage people to concentrate on their well-being:

  • Diet – Eating nutritious, well-balanced meals; avoid skipping meals; limit alcohol and caffeine; drink plenty of water; improves your ability to learn
  • Exercise – Stay active; even short 15-minute bouts of exercise 3 – 4 times a week helps; elevates mood almost immediately, increased energy and decreases stress, stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, and improves your appearance
  • Relaxation – Read; listen to music; enjoy a hobby; laugh with friends; avoid activities that involve drugs or alcohol; laughing decreases pain and offers a distraction from problems, muscle relaxation can reduce tension and anxiety
  • Rest – Sleep 7 – 9  hours each night; you will be more alert and active the next day, your body needs sleep to rejuvenate both mentally and physically

The four-step plan is a path towards mental wellness that Mental Health America says is usually defined as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, and working towards achieving one’s full potential.” (

Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral First in Decades

However, for many the threat of mental illness is very real and recognizing the symptoms of a disorder is important.  Worry, sadness, anxiety, and sleep problems can all be common when experienced occasionally; although, when they are experienced for very long periods of time, they are incredibly intense, or they begin to interfere with everyday life, like work or school, they may be a signs of a mental illness.

Eating disorders, anxiety, conduct, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are all disorders found in young people, the focus of this month’s awareness campaign.

In the United States, it is estimated that mental health issues affect one in five young people, according to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA).

Although they are not the focus of the campaign this month, adults ages 18 and older are common sufferers of mental illness; an estimated 22.1 percent, or one in five, are afflicted in a given year.

Many communities are organizing mental health awareness walks to raise awareness about illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar manic depression.  They also bring attention to suicide and the stigma related to it along with any mental illness that may have precipitated the act.

Mental Health America wants to remind everyone that, just as you would get a screening to ensure your good physical health; it is a good idea to get a checkup to determine a good mental state of well-being.  “Wellness is more than an absence of disease. It involves complete general, mental and social well-being. And mental health is an essential component of overall health and well-being. The fact is our overall well-being is tied to the balance that exists between our emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health.” (

During National Mental Health Month, take the time to confirm you are in good emotional health, see a professional if necessary, take time out of your busy day, relax, eat right, exercise, and slow down.

The Surgeon General recognizes that there is not one single factor for those contemplating suicide, but typically a series of problems, or a build-up of trouble.  Suicide or suicide attempts can occur when people are overwhelmed by life’s relationships, influenced by others, social and economic pressures, and their physical environments. Additionally, people who are suffering from a mood or mental disorder or substance abuse problem may be more inclined to consider suicide and require outside help.

Vincent Van Gogh

While it seems that suicide is a private and personal act, it becomes public and open for scrutiny after the fact; leaving loved ones to ask what could have been done to prevent it.  Prevention can be challenging for a tortured soul determined to end their own life; however, if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, contact a healthcare professional immediately.

Some notable suicides: Vincent Van Gogh (1890) Impressionist, Starry Night Over the Rhone; Edwin Armstrong (1954) Inventor of FM Radio; Jeff Alm (1993) NFL Player; Kurt Cobain (1994) Singer, Smells Like Teen Spirit; David Foster Wallace (2008); Writer, Infinite Jest; Mindy McCready (2013), Singer, I’m Not So Tough; Dick Trickle (2013) Nascar Driver.

By Dawn Cranfield

Senior Correspondent / Product Specialist

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