Not the Entertainment: Suicide, Mental Illness, and Society

An essay about Chester Bennington, society’s reaction to those of us with mental illness, and what makes suicide more likely.

If there’s a chance that articles on suicide trigger you in some way, I’m going to urge you to read something else. Love and light!

Black Rose by Social Thoughts

Before doing research for this article, I didn’t realize how many other writers had already decided to take a similar theme: the way in which society views suicide as pathetic and downright egotistical. Maybe, I can cover this topic without repeating everyone else too much.

I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store give me panic attacks. I love being productive at work, but I can feel my heart about to come through my chest almost the entire time. Not only do I see people’s eyes on me, but I feel their expectation weighing down on me:

“Don’t just be perfect; be normal, whatever ‘normal’ is.”

That’s my life.

And it’s exhausting.

I want to discuss what it’s like having a mental illness that others don’t want to hear about or understand. That’s where the problem lies.

Chester Bennington died on July 20th 2017

Most people probably found out about Chester’s death when they went online. For me, I was out with a not-so-close friend. One who had already screwed up the last time we hung out.

If you, the reader, are familiar with me and/or my writing, you know that I don’t socialize often.

It’s not that I don’t want to. Friends turn out to be shallow, most of the time. These days, the term “friend” essentially means “entertainer,” like many other things that shouldn’t. If I don’t do it for them, they tend to go elsewhere.

There I was at Starbucks with that friend I’ve had issues with. Thankfully, things were going well….until he took out his phone.

Am I boring him? Is he checking the time?

I don’t remember his exact words, but there was confusion. At last, he says, “’Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, dead by possible suicide.’”

Oh, please. Another one of those bullshit stories. 

I watched him scroll.

“It looks like it’s real: TMZ, Rolling Stone…” He continues, as if reading my mind.

Okay. My heart was pounding. Stop talking about it. Don’t cry. Don’t process it, yet.

“Death by hanging…”

Nope. I’m not doing this at Starbucks. Not with him.

“They’ll probably be playing Linkin Park songs on the radio. That’s what they did when Bowie died…”

“Uhuh…” How can I distract him? Talk about something else? Should I just be quiet? Be quiet, dude!

“I remember when Bowie died. I was really upset.”

“Yeah…” Shut up!

“I bet there will be teenage girls crying…”

Seriously, shut the hell up!

“Are you okay? You’re really quiet.”

“I’m tired. I didn’t get a lot of sleep.” That was too easy. “What time is it? Oh, I have to go. I’m sorry.”

We walked to my car.

Why is he following me? Wasn’t my goodbye at the door enough? I need to cry. Leave me alone!

“Chester was important to me, too. I’m going to miss him.”

“Yeah, I want to miss the high traffic.” Will this guy get out of here, already?

He gave me not one but two hugs before going.

Ugh, get off me!

On my drive home, he was right: Linkin Park was playing.

I cried, finally.

Unfortunately, that would be far from the last person I’d see speaking unsympathetically about Chester’s suicide.

Brian “Head” Welch from Korn made a disgusting statement online.

It starts out heartfelt but quickly changes into blame and apathy. He finishes with a sympathetic conclusion, but the overall message leaves one wondering how anyone, especially a friend of the victim, could write such words:

Honestly, Chester’s an old friend who we’ve hung with many times, and I have friends who are extremely close to him, but this is truly pissing me off! How can these guys send this message to their kids and fans?! I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sempethetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!!

I’m sorry, I know meds and/or alcohol may have been involved, I’m just processing like all of us and I know we are all having some of the same thoughts/feelings. Lord, take Chester in your arms and please re-unite him with his family and all of us one day. Be with his wife and kids with your grace during this difficult time.”

Many fans were upset—not a surprise there. Head apologized for his wording on WRIF’s Radio Chatter. He explained that he was still dealing with Chris Cornell’s suicide which happened a few months prior. Cornell was the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. His birthday would have been on the day of Chester’s suicide. Head was overcome with too many emotions to deal with it.

After Chester’s suicide, like most others, I watched videos I hadn’t seen before. I grew up with Linkin Park, but I hadn’t become obsessed with them. Watching the interview of him talking about the song “Heavy” and his mental health where the interviewer actually laughs about it makes me rage inside. I know exactly what that’s like. Maybe, Chester was crying for help in that interview. Maybe, he simply wanted to be heard. We’ll never know. Either way, when someone tells you what they’re going through, the worst thing you can do is laugh:

“…when I’m inside myself, when I’m in my own head—this place right here, this, this skull between my ears—that is a bad neighborhood, and…I should not be in there alone…I can’t be in there by myself…It’s crazy in here…I don’t say nice things to myself. There’s another Chester in there that like wants to take me down…”

Chester Bennington

People will say how mental illness makes those without it uncomfortable. That’s the explanation for why they laugh. Well, cancer, AIDS, and other deadly illnesses can make one equally as uncomfortable. Does that make it acceptable to laugh? Not everyone laughs. Some sit there awkwardly because they don’t know what to say. Another classic excuse.

Apparently, it’s too complicated for someone to wonder to themselves, “If I were suffering, what would I need or want to hear?” At the very least, it’s that you aren’t alone, and that someone cares. It’s simple.

No one truly wants to listen before the tragedy happens. That’s why it happens: society’s rampant indifference toward these problems. Mental illness is not entertaining, unless it’s violent and thrilling. How nice, right? No one wants to listen to you mope; however, once you reach the point of taking your own life, it may get attention and sell magazines. Of course, society will go back to ignoring the next victim—until their life is lost, too. On and on the cycle goes.

The real reason behind people’s unwillingness to truly listen is an insecurity. The discomfort and the preference for something light-hearted over real conversation are the same. It’s to prevent looking inside themselves. All it takes to make someone feel better is to learn that someone else has gone through anxiety, depression, or something similar to what they’re experiencing. Rather than admit to themselves that they know what it’s like, they pretend that the brave one talking about it is ruining a good time.

Those labeling mental illness sufferers “selfish” are the truly self-centered ones. Don’t consider what it takes to get to that point. Only think about your own needs. It’s the same that happens when someone is sharing their struggle with someone who refuses to listen. The one without depression, anxiety or whatever thinks, We were having fun, until you mentioned your illness. Can’t you focus on the good times? You’re distracting my fabulous illness-free existence. Do you mind?

Now, let me explain why suicide is not selfish. Depression is not one bad day. It’s not one bad week. It’s not even one bad month. Real depression spans several months, and sometimes years. When life feels horrible for that long, they aren’t thinking about anything other than a way out. They don’t end their life in order to ruin their friends’ or family’s. They do it to make the pain go away.

Long-term or short-term, usually, the pain is more temporary than they are capable of realizing in the moment. That’s what makes it tragic. Even the depressed can experience moments of joy to bring them out long enough to stop them from going through with it, but if that happy feeling never comes at the right time, that moment is spent doing harm to themselves.

Celebrity suicide has become an excuse for people to show how insensitive they are. Either the victim is selfish and cowardly or it’s amusement. All are repulsive responses to such a heartbreaking situation. Fame doesn’t make them any less human.

If anything beautiful could come out of Chester’s suicide it has been his widow Talinda’s new trend on Twitter for the depressed and suicidal. On September 4th, 2017, she tweeted that she was going to seek treatment for her own depression to make Chester proud. She invented new hashtags, #f-depression and #MakeChesterProud, to go with it. Personally, I’ve never been a Twitter fan, but this sounds empowering for anyone with a mental illness. Hopefully, it’s inspirational enough to save lives.

This article is dedicated in memory of Chester Charles Bennington, and for anyone with a mental illness who feels misunderstood and alone. Please, know that there are others like you. We hate it, too. We’re surviving, together.

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