Josh Marks: In Memoriam

For those of you who don’t know, Josh Marks, runner up from MasterChef season 3, died last week at his own hands.  This tragedy is too awful to process, even for those of us who didn’t know Josh.  I cannot imagine what his family is experiencing.

I haven’t addressed this issue earlier for several reasons.  Since I didn’t personally know Josh, it wasn’t my place to comment on it.  And since Josh’s personal struggles since leaving the show have been hyped and scrutinized by the gossip media, I did not want to contribute to the rumor mill flying around.  Josh was laid to rest yesterday in Chicago, and his family wants to create a legacy in his memory to help others struggling with mental illness, so I feel it’s now appropriate for me to touch on Josh’s story and let people know how they can help.

Josh’s MasterChef journey was not a smooth one.  While we, the audience, recognized his talent and likeability from the beginning, Josh was eliminated in an egg-cooking pressure test 8th from the top, shocking us all.  In my blog recap, I wrote more extensively about Josh’s elimination than probably anyone else that season:

“I have really enjoyed watching Josh this season.  I think that, technically, he is one of the best cooks in the competition.  He continually surprised me with the sophistication of his dishes, and his mature instincts.  Josh is the kind of person who I expect to actually become a chef, unlike most of the popular contestants on all 3 seasons.

“And this is evidenced by the fact that Gordon offers him a job.  (I’m absolutely certain Joe will do the same.)  Ultimately, MasterChef is NOT a cooking competition.  The cook with the best overall skills does not win.  Were that the case, we’d stop watching because it would be insufferably boring.  MasterChef is a TV show with dramatic turns and twists, and we end up rooting for characters who may not necessarily have the most talent or skill, but who have integrity and character, with whom we connect and identify.  We want THOSE people to win, even if other contestants are more talented.  So there is a lot more that must be taken into consideration in the judging process.

“That said, I think Josh might have taken it all, were MasterChef an entirely merit-based contest.  He is most definitely a force to be reckoned with.  And I can’t wait to see what’s next for him!”

Dark words when I read them now.  Of course, a few episodes later, Josh landed BACK in the MasterChef competition after several previously-eliminated contestants were seemingly-randomly selected to compete in a pressure test to win back their apron.  Despite obviously not performing the best in the pressure test, Josh was engineered back on the show (at the expense of others who performed much better), which left a bad taste in my mouth.  You can read the blog about this episode and the 80+ comments left by fans to understand why the producers made this choice…it caused lots of stir.  And it was no secret that Josh was a fan favorite that the audience felt was eliminated too early.  But, as he didn’t perform to his normal standards during the challenge, it certainly appeared very artificially engineered that he was back.  And according to his friends on the show, he was also fairly puzzled as to why he won out over better dishes in that challenge.  This may have planted the first seeds of his discontent with the show.

Josh then advanced all the way to the finals on the show, but it’s a different Josh that we were shown.  Whether through editing or reality, after his comeback Josh was more competitive, more solitary, more aggressive.  When David Martinez forgot the rice for his rice pudding, Josh boasted, “If I had any rice, I wouldn’t give it to him.”  Then an interview clip of him saying, “I think I’m way more competitive than most people in this contest.”  If you’re a regular blog reader of mine, you know how much I caution people against making ANY kind of correlation between a real person and what you see of them on reality TV.  Editing is highly selective, and sometimes sound bytes are even pieced together from separate things a contestant says on completely different days.  But one thing is for certain…Josh watched how he was represented on the show when it aired, and the pre-elimination Josh character was a very different character than the Josh character who won his apron back and went all the way to the finals.

Josh was not at peace with his runner-up position.  There was a lot of angst and heartache among the core MasterChef family that season over it.  But they all recognized that it wasn’t simply the jealous actions of a “sore loser.”  Josh wasn’t well.  He suffered from bipolar disorder. While his fellow season contestants may postulate otherwise, the MasterChef legal team has made it V-E-R-Y clear to me that the show’s producers and psychologists did not know about Josh’s condition before or during the filming of the show. (Contestants undergo exhaustive psychological evaluation before being cast, not only to uncover issues like mental disorders, but also to understand how contestants respond in stressful situations, so the show can be crafted to be gripping for each character’s story arc.)

Not much is publicly known about Josh during the period post-MasterChef until July of this year, though he was working professionally in restaurants.  He had been selected to compete in the highly respected Culinary Night Fight in New York.  And he had become a national spokesman for the Make A Sound Project, an organization that helps prevent suicide…revealing to the public that he has struggled with suicidal tendencies in the past.  Then, in July, Josh was arrested under strange circumstances that clearly indicated his mind was not well.  Rather than be sent for psychiatric evaluation, Josh was placed in jail and received no mental health treatment.

MasterChef scrambled to contact other season 3 contestants, warning them not to talk to the media.  We don’t know if they reached out to Josh or his family to see if any support could be offered, though I imagine we’d have heard about it. (They have now reached out to the family.)

After being released from jail, Josh’s mother struggled to get him help.  There were not enough spaces available in an in-patient facility where he could me monitored constantly.  Faced with astronomically prohibitive costs far beyond the family’s means, Josh entered an out-patient treatment program at Mercy Hospital that insurance would help to cover, though his mother expressed skepticism over the quality of the program.  At the end of this treatment program, Josh was informed that he was likely schizophrenic.  (At the end, just before discharge.)  Josh’s mother picked him up from the hospital and could tell how distraught he was over receiving this diagnosis.  The next day, Josh left his apartment, acquired a handgun, and, at age 26, ended his struggle in an alley nearby.  At least some family members were present, and his mother arrived moments after.

I’ve never written anything as horrible as this…my fingers aren’t wanting to keep typing.  I’ve lost two dear friends and several acquaintances to suicide, and I know all the emotions and doubts and regrets and guilt.  Even when I write about horrific issues, like children being discarded by their parents over issues of sexuality or gender identity, there is always something to celebrate at the end.  A triumph.  A life saved.  And while I have no doubt that Josh’s loved ones will use this struggle and the power of Josh’s story to save others from a similar fate, we’re just not there yet.  We’re in the middle of the despair.  In the thick of the questions…so many of which are questions we, as Americans, are struggling with right now.  Do we offer enough care to those wrestling with mental disorders?  Why can’t prisons rehabilitate, rather than perpetuate?  Why do we allow mental disease to be stigmatized to a much greater extent than physical disease?  How can those suffering from mental disorders so easily acquire weapons that can be deadly to them and others?

There are other questions that I will never be in a position to entertain.  Josh’s family considers reality TV to be the impetus for Josh’s mental disorders.  His mother states: “I hadn’t noticed any signs of anything wrong or any mental illness until after Josh completed filming MasterChef.  The time he was away filming was extremely stressful on him.”  I’m no psychologist, and will never be privy to the inside information regarding the production of Josh’s season and how the producers and their psychologists crafted Josh’s journey.  I caution anyone against hurriedly passing this off as being the exclusive fault of MasterChef’s producers or the network.

What I do hope is that this tragedy prompts the industry to look at how they treat their contestants, both during and after the filming.  Reality TV is produced not because the American public loves it, but because it’s cheap.  Hired actors are protected by unions that provide health and mental care, and have strict rules to protect them from the rigors of film and television production.  It’s far easier and cheaper to use “real” people who don’t have to be paid ANYTHING to be on TV, and who willingly sign contracts allowing them to be exploited in numerous ways.  And while most production companies have at least one psychologist on set, after meeting said psychologist for my season, it’s not entirely obvious to me that the doctor is there exclusively to ensure the mental health of the contestants, rather than assist in the crafting of the show’s story.

Many reality TV contestants experience mental and emotional hardship in the aftermath of the filming and airing.  At least one top contestant from my season struggled with suicidal tendencies and abject depression, and is only now starting to recover, 2 years after.  Multiple contestants from this past season have been suicidal, as well.  Actual suicides by reality TV contestants are certainly not unknown.  So it’s time for the industry to look at the mental health of its contestants, not only during filming, but after, as well.  And it’s time for us, as a culture, to banish the stigma around suicide, so our friends and family members aren’t scare to confess if they’re struggling with such thoughts.  I doubt there’s a single one of us out there who hasn’t contemplated it in our darkest moments.  I certainly have.

Josh Marks was a breathtakingly talented young man.  We, the world, were lucky to have shared in his light during MasterChef season 3.  Josh was loved by so many fans.  The tragedy is that mental illness prevented him from FEELING that love, and the love from those closest to him.  No one of sound mind who feels truly loved takes their life.  The issue here is illness.  And so many people struggle with it.

Until his death, Josh was actively involved with the Make A Sound project, to raise awareness about suicide and help those struggling with suicidal thoughts.  Josh’s family is encouraging those who wish to help to make a donation to Make A Sound in Josh’s name.  A donation link can be found midway down their homepage.  Josh’s mother is working toward establishing a foundation in Josh’s name that will fight for increased mental healthcare in this country, and when that is up and running, I’ll let you all know.

In the meantime, I ask that comments on this post be celebrations of what you remember of Josh…sharing of personal struggles with mental disease, either your own or those of loved ones…words of encouragement for anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide…and support for Josh’s family, his memory, and legacy.  Let’s not devolve into political arguments or outlashings against anyone, out of respect for Josh and his family.

**IF you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to someone who loves you.  If you would feel better talking to someone who doesn’t know you, there are lots of resources to connect with someone who will help you feel better:

1-800-SUICIDE
1-800-784-2433 1-800-273-TALK
1-800-273-8255
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

https://www.facebook.com/800273TALK

http://suicidehotlines.com/national.html

Also for the VA (they counsel anyone and have vast experience)
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Kids Help Phone (Cyberbullying):
If you need someone to vent too or just someone to listen. phone this number. They are amazing.
1-800-668-6868
http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/en/home.asp

52 Responses to Josh Marks: In Memoriam

  1. “Do we offer enough care to those wrestling with mental disorders? Why can’t prisons rehabilitate, rather than perpetuate? Why do we allow mental disease to be stigmatized to a much greater extent than physical disease?”

    I wish I had answers to your questions. Well, I think I can answer that first one with a resounding NO. But maybe if we all start opening up about things, sharing our stories, we can start to change things one bit at a time. I’ve been very inspired by the open vulnerability and honesty several bloggers I know have presented in their own stories of mental illness, and I finally decided to open up about my own, just a little bit, on my blog a couple of days ago.

    I plan to start talking about things more openly from here on out, and see how I can help improve things. I hope that Josh’s family will be as okay as they can be, and that his story at least helps others who are struggling.

    • Rei, thanks for this comment. I love your blog…your post on play is pure perfection. And your Sunday post was heartfelt and tender. More people should share like this.

  2. A family member shared this link with me. It is a very poignant article written by David Sedaris about his sister suicide. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/10/28/131028fa_fact_sedaris?currentPage=2

    It is well written and hit very close to home. A family member of mine committed suicide over 30 years ago, but the pain a family feels never completely goes away. You are always one short too soon. I would never wish it on anyone. My prayers and thoughts go out to Josh’s family.

  3. My heart breaks for his family. My father committed suicide and while in hindsight I came to realize there was nothing I could have said or done that would have prevented it, initially I was guilt ridden over what I did or didn’t do or said or didn’t say to make things different. After hearing about the psychological evaluation done before being cast on the show I wondered how he made it through. Knowing that they knew and still cast him makes it only more tragic.

    • Lisa, thanks for this. I know his family must really be struggling right now, especially after reading what you said. I’ve lost 2 friends to suicide, but can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a parent or child.

  4. Such a sad ending. He was an inspiration to so many. Would love to hear your thoughts on the junior MC thats running? perhaps another blog post.:)

  5. Thank you, Ben, for taking time to touch on such a difficult and tragic subject. As always, you’ve done a fabulous job. As the mother of a son who has also battled with bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes and suicidal acts, my prayers are with Josh’s family and you as well. You’re a such a great influence on so many.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Cindy. Your devotion and love has made your son a better person, and his life has thus done the same for others. Hang in there!

  6. Well spoken as usual Mr. Starr. This is such a horrific and confusing event that many people aren’t sure what to feel; angry, sad, confused, all of the above or none, even I don’t either. I can say this though; there is no feeling worse than feeling worthless, to consider oneself unworthy of love, affection, or of value. Your line about Josh being unable to feel that love, spot on sir. I have also struggled with these real and powerful emotions a great deal of my life (both as a teen and as an adult), and it’s only within the past couple of years that I have found balance and wholeness. I was lucky, dare I say blessed to have an amazing wife who loved me and supported me through some dark times, a loving family, and a great church who did more than just pray for me. Yeah, churches aren’t always the location of receiving such grace, but they are out there (and I keep working to nurture more of them). I grieve for the lost souls who find themselves utterly alone, because I’ve been there and it sucks like nothing else.

    Overall, we can’t live our lives as solitary creatures, which is almost the living mantra of our Western culture (“you gotta pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” and other such nonsense) . Life can and will beat you down quickly without that support group. That support group can also include health professionals who give the care that sometimes even families are unable to give. Right now there is serious stigma about mental health and related issues; and we as a community made of loving individuals can change that. Note that in the past several years the stigma of cancer is waning, why not the stigma of mental health. We can do our part, and we must! That begins when we start taking and sharing within our families, our communities, and even our online presences, to challenge false perceptions and create spaces for true dialogue and change. It starts when we drop our anger, fear, and suspicion of others (and ourselves) for these emotions only serves to isolate us. Negativity needs space to work, so when we free ourselves of those burdens there is room for the healing grace that people need, no matter their journey in life. You are doing incredible work in that regard Mr. Starr, and I will keep praying for the Marks family as they do the same, and I’ll do my part.

  7. I remembered when Joe was teaching the contestants how to make tortellini, Josh showed Christine the folding technique with folding his hands over hers and manipulating her fingers. It was a really quick shot, but it made him really shine in my eyes.

  8. Josh’s story is tragic, and perhaps wouldn’t be if mental illness didn’t have the stigma it does. I’ve struggled with mental illness throughout my life, and have been suicidal. Many people think that someone with a mental illness is “crazy” or that it’s “all in their head” and don’t regard a mental illness the same as a physical illness or condition, such as diabetes. Many people with mental illness recover through medication and therapy. How unfortunate it is that mental health coverage under many insurance plans is so prohibitive or limiting. I didn’t know Josh, but I can relate and empathize with what he struggled with. Those left behind will be filled with grief and guilt, wondering what they could have done to prevent the death. The sad reality is, a person who has made a decision to take their own life will do so and, in many cases, not provide any clues that they are feeling the way they are. When I attempted suicide the first time (a cry for help, really) I read a book called Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison. It not only helped me better understand why I tried to do what I did, but it also helped my then wife understand as well. For anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, a call to your local suicide prevention hotline, or the national crisis line (1-800-273-8255) could make a huge difference.

  9. Josh was a sweet fellow and the circumstances that have occurred are nothing short of tragic.

    I remember when I first met him on the set – I asked him candidly if he thought he was going to win. Having eyeballed the demographic of the competition, I knew I wouldn’t win but I wanted his two cents. He laughed and responded, “I’m too sexy not to take this one home!” I laughed a nervous laugh and told him he’d have to he would have to get past me first in my most intimidating stare. He just smiled and winked while rubbing his hands together in nervous anticipation.

    Here comes the shocker (hold your flying tomatoes till the end):

    In hindsight, I am truly disappointed that he was allowed to compete. Wow…. I said it. As Ben mentioned, the psychological evaluations required to compete are exhaustive. Of course they want to make sure you won’t go “postal” on the set and stab Gordon in the throat or have sex with other contestants, etc, etc. Standard stuff. If it was known that he had a bipolar disorder prior to filming, he should not have been allowed to compete – period.

    Before someone gets really angry, hear me out. I say this because it’s a safety issue for Josh and everyone else. The stress we contestants are under is staggering. It seems all fun and games at home in the comfort of a living room once a week, but the long hours, shattered dreams, nervous energy and stress can all become catalysts for larger problems. I lost my shit on a wrangler over a luggage screw up when I was hurting for sleep and sick as a dog. I felt bad – really bad – and I apologized as quickly as it happened. But…it made me realize how even the most stable people can snap under certain circumstances. I surprised myself.

    If….IF, the production crew knew Josh had underlying mental issues, however minor, why would anyone knowingly subject an individual to circumstances that could potentially exacerbate a preexisting mental condition? It’s foolish and irresponsible. Josh was a very affable and obviously talented fellow who made his way to the finale for many reasons, but in hindsight, at what cost? I’m sure if he had been cut because of his disorder before the competition and knew that was the reason there would have been hell to pay, but normally, no one get’s to know why a casting director makes a choice of one contestant over another. He could have been cut and be none the wiser. There were hundreds of talented people that didn’t make it for many reasons – looks, personality, back-story, etc. As a Monday morning quarterback (which is an easy job to have), it would seem that someone made a poor judgement call – perhaps. I don’t want Josh to be a poster child for reality contestants gone wrong. If anything, I would hope that Josh is remembered as a good soul with a great deal of talent. He should also be remembered as an example to casting directors out there that certain risks are best avoided; there has to be a more conservative cost-benefit analysis when it comes to screening contestants. I doubt anyone will ever be able to make a medically certain nexus between his appearance on the show and any exacerbation of his condition, but common sense would suggest that conclusion – it’s almost unavoidable. Tragedies are coined as such in hopes that they won’t be repeated.

    • I understand what you’re saying here and I know that it is because you would have wanted him protected. However as a person who lives with bipolar disorder I can’t help but feel that this is an unfair solution. Denying those of us with mental illness the opportunity to succeed further reinforces the shame many of us already feel, and tells us that we should keep quiet about our struggle if we want to get anywhere in life. Perhas instead it is the culture (both of reality shows and in general) that needs,to evolve. Requiring contestants who are under psychiatric care to get a release from their doctor and requiring those who are diagnosed during the show to see a third party doctor (of course this has it’s own set of difficulties, but this is not the time or place to discuss the financial disparity and medical care problem of our country). Or maybe just not valuing entertainment over the wellbeing of the people involved. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I recognize the compassion that generated your response, I just believe that we are coming at a solution from the wrong side of the problem.

  10. Hearing about Mark was and is still quite jarring. It was lovely to read your kind and thoughtful writing about him. My nephew had bipolar disorder and was suicidal. He died of a heroin overdose two months ago and I haven’t been the same since. He was found in a gruesome way. While I don’t think he intended to die, he certainly did take drastic measures to try to deal with his pain. It’s been tough and I am worried about my family and his closest friends. I am especially worried about my family member who found him. A very tough situation but the clouds are starting to part especially when I began to Focus on finding ways to help others. It’s amazing how resilient life can be.

    My warm thoughts and prayers are with Josh’s family and friends. They are not alone.

    • Patricia, thank you for sharing your struggle. And you’re right…finding a way to help others can be a wonderful and cathartic way to recover from such a senseless tragedy. Big hugs for you!

  11. I have so many people in my life who struggle with mental illness. There is no good help that I have ever seen. They are either thrown in jail or into over-crowded facilities where they may as well be in prison or they are given pills that don’t work or turn them into zombies or they are sent home when they are clearly not fine or they end up homeless because they are improperly medicated and have no one who can help them. My heart breaks for Josh’s family. My heart breaks for him that he felt that was his only choice and because I understand how he could feel that way, even knowing he had people who loved him dearly. I hope he has found some peace now. I hope his family can eventually find the same.

  12. I haven’t commented in a while, but have continued to faithfully read your blog. I was anticipating a post about Josh, and as always, your words encompass the gamut of human emotion and thought with honor and respect.

    I remarked several times to my husband during the third season of MC that Josh had- whether via the magic of editing or not- a true raw talent when it came to food. I think drive and competitiveness are two separate concepts, and it’s my impression that Josh had a lot of drive to be the best chef he could be. There are certain contestants every year that I’m genuinely concerned for as the show chews them up and spits them out, but he was never one of them. I don’t read tabloids or have cable TV, so I was unaware of the prior incident preceding his last day- the shock of the finality of his decision literally brought a tear to my eye. Now I’m just incensed at how our system works, and wonder how many more deaths due to mental illness it will take before protocol changes.

    You offered your readers a chance to share their personal mental health story. No one except my husband and doctor is aware of what happened to me earlier this year, and as today happens to be my 31st birthday, I think it might be helpful to myself and others to share.

    In March, I was hospitalized for five days. My stomach had stopped working, and the local country bumpkin doctors had determined something was amiss with one of my cranial nerves, although they never sought an explanation as to why. I was put on a nasty medication called ‘Reglan’; it somewhat forced my stomach to work, but the reviews of it on askapatient dot com reveal the horrific impact it has on the mental health of patients. In early May, the next major cranial nerve to go on the fritz caused a facial nerve pain condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia, otherwise known as ‘Suicide Disease’. The irony is that, due to my stomach not working properly, I couldn’t take any pain relievers for the facial nerve pain. Daily life was…interesting. Volatile, to say the least.

    Memorial Day weekend, I finally snapped. The Reglan medication had caused severe insomnia and nighttime convulsions for two months; I was averaging a mere two hours of restless sleep per night. Visual and auditory hallucinations were frequent. I knew why these things were happening to me and thus was able to maintain a sense of calm and acceptance. But after weeks of suffering, I was at my breaking point. It was embarrassing: I’d survived multiple battles with cancer, undergone nine surgeries since I was a toddler…and a stupid prescription was getting the better of me?! I don’t remember much from the holiday weekend except for the single moment that changed it all. I was in the bedroom, having a ton of abdominal pain (as usual), experiencing a facial nerve pain attack, and barely hanging onto wakefulness after yet another 48 hours with zero sleep. I spied the shotgun in the corner, a must-have tool due to bears roaming our property. Except for me and the gun, the rest of the world just kind of floated melted away, the concept of seconds/minutes/days in the future ceased to exist. No emotion, no thought, just this inexplicable tunnel vision and moth-to-the-flame reflex. I’ve never used recreational drugs, but I imagine the disconnect from reality was something akin to a ‘trip’. I picked up the shotgun and tried to quietly jack a shell in. My husband heard it and was in the room before I knew what was happening, snatching the gun from me. I just looked at him, confused about, well, all of reality.

    I’d never been on any sort of psychiatric medication before, and I made one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I went to my doctor that Monday, and my husband and I told him everything that happened. I say it was a hard decision because I’m a licensed pilot, and seeking mental healthcare is a HUGE no-no in aviation (yet another aspect of the system that is broken). Doc put me on some super duper meds that, within two days, had me feeling like myself for the first time in far too long. I was only on antidepressants for a few weeks, and honestly believe the meds, as well as the support of my husband and doctor, saved my life. I know that to say I’m fortunate is a gross understatement. I’m happy to report that after a long trip to the Mayo Clinic in August, the reason for the central nervous system misfirings was diagnosed and continue to be treated (apparently, being on cancer suppression therapy for nine years wreaks a bit of havoc on one’s body). My personal experience has been that treatment for metastatic cancer is 1,000% easier to endure than my brief dance with mental illness, hence I chose to discontinue suppression therapy so the conditions that required depression-inducing drugs would be eliminated from my life. How’s that for a reality check, preferring a fight with cancer over a battle with mental illness?!

    I’d always had sympathy for those suffering from mental health issues, but now I can completely empathize. I find myself kinder to those who are obviously afflicted, and catching little “tells” from those who aren’t so obvious about their struggles. Unfortunately, until mental illness is accepted by the general public as being a legitimate health concern, we’re going to continue to lose folks like Josh who have a tremendous amount to offer the world.

    • WOW, Jordan. What a terrifying experience! Thank goodness that awful medicine is far behind you and that you’re getting back to yourself. Thank you so much for sharing this. I imagine it was absolutely awful feeling how you felt…

  13. Bipolar disorder is still rather unkown among mental illnesses, and sometimes, people in their ignorance use the word in the wrong way. That alone makes my bile boil. I have people who are very close to me who have it, and I try my best to make them laugh, or cheer them up, even though I’m a terrible comedienne. I suffer from depression at times due to my hypothyroidism, but I’ve never been treated for the dep bouts. So instead, now that I’m much more stable than before, I try my best to help those I care about the most.

    Josh’s death was an absolute shock to me. It’s a freakin’ damn shame (please forgive my language, Ben!) that health costs in the USA (be it mental or physical) are so prohibitively expensive, and that TV cares more about the money than the people’s health in it. As if people were nothing than pieces in the games of chess that ratings and drama are. But if that’s the game they’re playing, I believe there should be a stronger campaign AGAINST people trying to get into a reality show. Is it really that worth it? Is it worth throwing away your dignity and mental health? I don’t think so. I’ve had people tell me to try out for The X Factor, Colombia’s Got Talent or The Voice here, but I refuse.

    On the thoughts of suicide… A loss, no matter if it’s someone we don’t know directly, will always be painful. I lost a very dear friend of mine when she decided to end her life by her own hands some years ago (I drew her portrait and have it on my DeviantArt). I almost lost another one, but he managed to overcome it and has gone a long way (for which I’m extremely grateful). I’ve thought about suicide in my past, and I’m open about it because I know I’ll never do it again. I swore that on my friend’s casket at her funeral. But her death taught me to live my life as best as I can, and while the pain is there, I try to remember the good moments.

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Ben.

  14. I want to take this opportunity to ask people to talk to their friends, family and work colleagues if they see the signs of depression. I was upset a few years ago when my supervisor said “Oh, I thought that was the problem” after I told him that I had been diagnosed with depression. I’d been struggling for months with no idea what was wrong with me (I thought being depressed was about being sad) and to think that I could have gotten help sooner if he had spoken up was frustrating.

    We so often don’t want to “interfere” and it can be scary to talk to someone about depression because we don’t want our friends and family to be insulted.

    Earlier this year a co-worker I didn’t know well was acting “off” to the point where people who knew him better commented on it. I simply told him I was noticing some things that reminded me of when I was depressed and gently suggested that he might want to look at the symptoms online and see if they fit and to see a doctor if they did. I told him depression wasn’t jsut about feeling sad and the reason I was saying something is that a co-worker had suspected I was depressed but didn’t say anything and that I wished he had so I could have gotten help sooner. Then I let it drop.

    Even with all the TV ads for depression meds, too many people go undiagnosed. I realize Josh Marks’s illness was much more than just depression, but even just depression can lead to suicide so it seemed like a good opportunity.

  15. Blessings to Josh’s family in the coming weeks

    The best way to beat stigma is to refuse to be stigmatized. My son and I both have bipolar disorder. It’s not so mystical, as some might have you believe. As we learned to regulate ourselves, to keep ourselves well, attend to the early symptoms of mania and depression, surround ourselves with supportive people and have a WRAP (Wellness & Recovery Action Plan), life has improved. We now work in the advocacy world to make changes and support others. A snippet of Donovan’s story aired yesterday http://www.nbc15.com/home/headlines/Local-mother–228691101.html

  16. A good friend of mine passed away from suicide two years ago at the age of nineteen. We all went to school together and were even attending the same University in a different city. It was during the summer break of our second year and he had been diagnosed with many mental disorders. The shock, horror, sadness for his family, for my friends and for everyone who knew him was something I can not really describe in words. His name was Jono and he was our gentle giant. Not as tall as Josh but he towered over us girls and was the tallest out of the boys who were in our laser tag team.
    After this I watched Masterchef season 3, it is something extremely different to the NZ masterchef (New Zealand is where I am from) and I watched the editing, the manipulation of every character and the changes to Josh’s character’s were apparent. I remembered thinking that it was manipulation, wrong but I guess I assumed that the production did take care of it’s cast.
    Soon after the season ended my cousin died at the age of 23 in a motorcycle accident and my world crashed.Not only were we dealing with our own pain but also the fear of what his family, his mother and father and younger brother were going through.
    I feel extremely sorry for Josh’s mother and family. The pain they must be feeling now, the sorrow and the guilt, is overwhelming. Josh was raising awareness and he was doing what he could but the system failed him. I can not comment on the USA system, I barely understand it and having a best friend with depression, I am still trying to understand the New Zealand system.
    I send all of my thoughts to Josh’s family, going through a time where you have lost a son, a cousin, a brother, a loved one, is the worst period in anyone’s life. We can accuse and point fingers but there is no point when we can support the family and help raise awareness for those with mental disorders to get cheaper, affordable help all over the world.

    • Bravo, Lauren, this is beautifully said. I lost 2 dear friends to suicide…I know how it feels. I love your message: “We can accuse and point fingers but there is no point when we can support the family and help raise awareness for those with mental disorders to get cheaper, affordable help all over the world.”

  17. I want to write something profound. It’s not going to happen. It’s just a tragedy no matter how you look at it. Clearly Josh did not get the sort of help he needed. He probably should never have been allowed on MC, because of all the stress reality TV puts on people. I want to blame someone. There’s lots of it to go around. I would hope this might help change the atmosphere of reality TV. I would hope it helps raise awareness for mental health. What a waste that this young, talented man is no longer here. I would hope he is remembered for the positives and not for what happened at the end.

  18. Ben,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and caring words. Josh was definitely one of my favorite contestants and I expected him to have a rich and full culinary future after Masterchef. I was so saddened to hear about his passing when we are still now recovering from the loss of a close personal friend who also died from mental illness on September 20. And that’s how I see it – Josh didn’t die from a gunshot wound and my friend didn’t die by the cord around her neck any more than a cancer victim dies from organ failure. The cause of death is the disease, not what eventually stopped their heart. When more people acknowledge the power mental illness has over its victims, just like cancer and so many other physical ailments, then maybe those suffering from it will receive more in the way of compassion instead of criticism.

    Suicide is not a choice a mentally well person makes – it is an innate part of our psyche to self preserve. It goes against every particle of our being to end our own life; those who feel it’s the solution of a weak or cowardly person have obviously never faced death.

    R.I.P. Josh and my darling Kim. You will both be missed more than you know. Hopefully your stories will at least help someone else who is suffering.

    • Thanks for sharing, Kim, I know it’s not easy to talk about something so close. I’ve lost 2 dear friends to suicide, both in the same year. I know the hurt.

  19. Ben, first of all, I must comment (as always) on your huge heart & your incredible compassion. The world needs more BenStahhhhhhhhs!

    To Josh’s family, I lost my father just 2 months ago. He was much older than Josh & it was to cancer, but the pain, when you lose someone you truly love & value, is so acute it takes your breath away at times. (Or at least that is my experience.) I offer you my most heartfelt condolences. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, & I wish I could offer you more. I will, however, add all of you to my “prayer” list (which has become more good vibes & positive energy). You have my deepest sympathy. I so admire the way you are trying to create something good out of this awful tragedy. God bless you all.

  20. From now on, every pecan pie I make, as I’m rolling out the crust I will always wonder “what would this be like with bacon in the crust,” and similarly, “what would the culinary world be like if Josh were still here?” Truly sad

  21. What happened to Josh makes me cry every time that I think to it…also if I didn’t know him from tv…suicide is too sad. Soon we’ll see MasterChef USA 3 here in Italy, it will be strange to see Josh knowing what happened after the show. I pray for him and for his family, and also for everyone with mental illness.

  22. Complex post traumatic stress disorder is very often misdiagnosed as bi-polar disorder. This is not a good thing because the medication actually makes that disorder worse.

  23. I really wish I had words smart enough to make things better for at least someone. I don’t. Me and my girlfriend watched the whole season 3 (the first one we watched episode by episode) and we were so fond of Josh.

    Not that it matters much what I’m feeling right now, Ben… still, while we already discussed about the drama, competition and tension that reality TV depitcs (and very likely cultivates), to me Masterchef has never be about any of that… it was about watching a bunch of interesting individuals with their own style of cooking and seeing them coming up with various ideas. It was like being part of a community. It was enticing, and fun, and familiar. In my ideal world no one should be sent home until the very end, so that I could keep seeing what each one comes up with in all the different occasions (and I also think it would make the competition more realistic). I felt like he was a part of a social circle that also indirectly included me.

    It feels like if a star has blacked out. Josh was talented, creative, kind, surprising. He certainly made our (mine and my fiancee’s) evenings for a while. He pulled out an incredibly interesting menu… even if I thought from the first second that such a mind-boggling carte wasn’t the ideal menu against Christine, whose main strenghts were tradition, balance and harmony, I think that the very same menu could easily have won the trophy against most of the other competitors.

    (Yet again I am willing to presume that the producers had not decided from the start who the winner would be; Josh may have been convinced of the contrary, and it appears to me that Christine is quite suspectful of it… which I think could have made the experience very unpleasant to them both)

    Both I and my girlfriend took with happiness the news that even after the loss he seemed withing reach of his dreams – his cooking school, being a chef for hire, cooking at charity events, etc. We were happy that things turned well for him. He just seemed to deserve it and not only because of how his character was depicted. No producer can edit your smile, your stare, your expression. He just looked such a sweet, bright person. “A well spirited gentle giant”, his relative said, a short but fitting definition. When he and Christine hugged at the end, it was such a emotional moment, much more so than most moments artificially built to feel emotional that the show is crammed with. That image certainly left me one of my summer’s nicest memories.

    I wish, I really wish that all the affection and admiration we felt for Josh Marks could make things better by the tiniest amount. I know it doesn’t sadly. For all that matters, we loved you Josh, have a good rest.

  24. The clinic that laid the schizophrenia diagnosis on him just as he was leaving bears some culpability. Very irresponsible!

    It saddens me that Ramsay didn’t step up and offer Josh the best treatment available following his arrest…

  25. It breaks my heart to read this story. And my love and sympathy go out to Josh’s loved ones. I too live with bipolar disorder, as well as anxiety and depression, and the continuing stigma and misunderstanding in this day and age makes me profoundly sad. Speaking personally, I find the battle with mental illness is more of an ongoing siege then a decisive victory. Even with medication I constantly question whether my perceptions are based on facts (a person truely doesn’t like me, a situation is truely dangerous) or is just my illness talking. I am never sure of myself. And Ben, you really hit the nail on the head when you said that Josh could not feel the love his family has for him. Because mental illness comes from inside your brain it is extremely difficult to counteract its effects. Just as color blind people dont know they are color blind until they are screened for it, often mentally ill people have no idea they are mentally ill until something catastrphic happens. We just assume that we are seeing the world exactly the way it is because its literally impossible to experiance life from outside your brain, thus impossible to experiance it outside the illness.

    It’s confusing and messy living with mental illness, even when you are getting excellent treatment (and I am). I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have access to, or can’t afford medical care. Regardless, to those of you who are suffering even now and don’t know why, to those who hurt and are starting to wonder if maybe you have depression or some other mental illness, to those who can’t understand how people can be happy in a world so terrible (a question I often asked before my diagnosis), to those of you who are starting to think that it might just be easier on you, or better for the people you love if you were just gone, I beg you to tell someone. Please, tell anyone. Tell your church, tell your school, tell your best friend or your partner, tell your boss or HR director (I had an employee attempt suicide at my place of business, we had a fund available for mental health, if I had known he was suffering I could have helped him). The shame you may feel is not worth your life and believe me when I say that your family and friends will NOT be better off without you, they would be devastated if you were gone. There are resources available, even for people with no insurance and no money. Every one of us is a jewel and together we light the world.

  26. lucy in the sky

    I can’t belive this, he seemed so full of dreams… Last summer i tried to kill myself but i’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until i read this article and all these comments that i didn’t think of how much it will have afected those arround me.

    I hope he finds peace now and so does his family, specialy his mother how does a mother survives this???

    Thank you Ben and all the people who share thier stories, you all trully help me to see what is like for those who lost someone like this.

    pd: please perdon my english, it’s not my first language.

    • Lucy, thank you SO much for this comment. I love the fact that you saw the OTHER side of suicide…what it does to the people who love you. I honestly don’t know who a mother survives something like this, but Josh’s mother is determined to help others who need access to mental care get it.

  27. Josh was one of my favourite contestants that season and this story is nothing short of tragic and sad. I can’t imagine what his family is going through. Rest in Peace Josh. You were so talented and I wish there was a happier ending to your story.

  28. Dear Ben, Thank you for your loving blog. If only more people had your inspirational, loving heart, the world would be a better place. Bless your sweet self. xoxo

  29. I am shocked that Josh died this way and I will have him in my thoughts and prayers. I hope now that his pain is gone and that he is in a better place.

    I have bi-polar myself and I also have Asperger’s (now known as just Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and have struggled with depression for most of my life. I have attempted suicide at least 6 times since I was 12 and have self-mutilated myself at least 4 or 5 times. I am also receiving disability and cannot work due to my mental illness and developmental disability. It is very hard to go day by day and it is a struggle to try to maintain a good state of mind.

    I think that normal functioning people don’t understand mental illness because mental illness comes from the inside, no one can see what you are going through unlike a physical illness such as diabetes or cancer and thus won’t get the same kind of empathy as those afflicted with a physical disability or illness. Because of this, most mental illnesses are treated as “invisible diseases” and oftentimes are mocked or ridiculed by the public because those that witness a psychotic break only see the outward behavior and can’t know what is going on in that person’s head.

    The mental health care here is abysmal at best, most especially if you are poor and are subsisting on government aid as there isn’t enough resources to go to and insurance coverage is sparse. I was hospitalized 5 times in the past 8 years and I have had it where they let me go in a week, when I wasn’t ready to leave, because Medicare/Medicaid had a cut off time. My last hospitalization was last October and I was court mandated to stay there for 30 days and I was let go early because of the insurance cut off time. My attending psychiatrist didn’t want to let me go and tried to get more authorization to keep me there but no, I had to be let go despite the court order.

    Having a mental illness is crippling and I don’t think that most people understand that and probably won’t unless they experience it themselves. It is very hard and the emotions control you in a way that it is almost supernatural. Once you are in such a state where your mind, your spirit, is in an irrational hurricane of emotional distress it is hard to get out of it; almost as if you are on the edge of a cliff and just one push could send you over. It’s hard, very hard, to deal with it and with no one to turn to, I can see why some would think that suicide is the only way out.

    I think I am going to end this here because this is something that is difficult for me to discuss, I just know that there are people out there that are suffering inside and I can only hope that they get help or are getting help as well as getting better.

    • Elm, I am deeply honored that you would open up and share your perspective here on my blog. It’s so important for people to hear this kind of story, and I think are you spot on. Those who have never experienced mental illness simply have no perspective for understanding it. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear that you’ve had trouble getting the help you need. If more of us would stand up for better mental health care, our country would be a better place. Perhaps my single biggest beef with the US is its approach to the health of its citizens. But that’s another blog altogether…

    • Elm, I hope that you’ll get better! I pray for Josh too, and I’ll pray also for you (and also for the other people who shared their story).

  30. Jeremy Williams

    Hey Ben, I’ve only recently found your blog but wanted to comment on this. I only started watching Masterchef earlier this summer so I only finally got to watch season 3 without knowing any of the details of what happened to Josh as it happened in real time so it was quite a surprise to have read all the recent news and think to myself, “Wow I only just saw season 3 a few months ago.” Anyways I’m sure everyone’s already had their share of stuff to say about what happened so I’ll just focus on one of my favorite memories of Josh. It was the food truck challenge when Josh’s team ended up with the Indian food truck and just watching how Josh took control and what I thought was great leadership as he led them to a second place victory.

  31. Mental health programs have almost no resources at their disposable, and if you have other intersections of oppression on top of that (like being black) it’s even harder to get help. This is a sad situation all around and yet another wake up call about the inequities in our society.

    R.I.P. Josh. You were a talented young man and I always enjoyed watching you on the show. I’m sad you’re gone, but happy that your pain is at an end.