We need to talk about it. Robin Williams, Chris Cornell and now Chester Bennington. My heart beaks for every suicide I hear about, and those men have all inspired and entertained so many of us, myself included. As a huge Linkin Park fan, I was devastated to hear of Chester Bennington's death on 20th July 2017; a date that would have been the birthday of his great friend Chris Cornell. The double loss is a tragedy and my heart goes out to their families, friends and bandmates. I've been lucky enough to see Linkin Park at Download Festival twice now, and I was so looking forward to seeing them headline it again in the future. It's a small loss for a fan compared to what their loved ones are going through, but from the heart, I wish I never found myself writing this post.
At times like these, sadly it's common to hear people throwing judgments around about suicide being cowardly or selfish. I can't stress enough how important it is for us as a society to get past these judgments to a place of empathy, and to a place where it's OK to talk about this. We can never know exactly what someone is feeling who makes such a final decision, and sometimes we never well know. Sometimes there is no warning sign. It may be driven by pain that is too much to bear, by feeling it's the only option in a life trapped by circumstances or by medications or a health condition affecting a person's thought processes. Whatever the reason, it's no time for judging. They're not easy circumstances to bear, and I hope that we can learn to approach the issue with kindness and compassion. Because the more we can show kindness in discussing this, the more people will feel able to open up.
One thing that Robin, Chris and Chester have in common is they are all men over 40, and all highly talented performing artists. Their deaths are a tragic reminder that wealth, success and fame do not protect us from being human; we are all in the same boat here. But it is concerning how much harder men may find it to open up and talk about what is going on for them, and suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Stigma can be such a powerful barrier to getting help, and the rock and roll industry, like many other male dominated arenas, is not such an easy place to speak up in.
And for that I want to commend Chester, for his openness in speaking out in interviews about his early trauma, and the pain he suffered in his life and channelled into his music. His angst is over, but his music will forever support me, and millions of others, as they work through theirs.
In response to this tragedy, I hope that we can look to the future and think about what we as a society can do to prevent anymore tragic and untimely deaths.
- We need to tackle the stigma. Every one of us can play a role in this. Think about how you respond to the news of a suicide. Don't judge it; choose kindness and empathy. Think about how you respond if someone tries to open up to you. Make time to really listen, don't judge, help them get help and find support for yourself too.
- We need to encourage others to seek support. If you are someone who has benefitted from therapy (I'll start by putting my own hand up here) and you feel safe enough to share, please consider the benefits of being open about your experiences. Speaking your truth is empowering, for yourself and the people you connect with. The more we can normalise getting help, the easier it will become for others to take that first step.
- We need more resources. I wish we could fix this one; an end to austerity and proper funding for the NHS would help. In the UK, Our NHS is breaking at the seams and mental health support is stretched to the limit but there is help out there. Your GP can help you access support, and there are support lines, webchats and email services available. Counselling charities and training colleges often offer discounted counselling, and those with the funds can look for a registered private counsellor. Click here to find out more about getting help.
- We need to help others to access the right help. We need to walk hand in hand with people who are too low to find the support for themselves and pro-actively reach out to help them where we can. But in doing so, we also have to be compassionate to ourselves. It's vital to remember you can't make someone seek help, and pushing too hard can push them away. Trust is important and sometimes you can only share the information of what's out there and leave the decision up to them.
- We need to be kind to ourselves. If you're supporting someone who feels low or suicidal, get support for yourself, particularly if you are not sure how best to help them. It's complex and messy. There's no "one rule fits all" for how to approach this. Nothing about this is easy. But remember, no matter how much you do or don't do, you're never responsible for someone else's choice.
I urge anyone feeling suicidal to reach out and talk to someone. A friend, family member, a doctor, a therapist or the helplines below. Men, this goes out especially to you. It's not weak to talk, it's a sign of huge strength. You can heal from this. You can get past this. People do care. You can find a way to a new beginning, in this life...
In the UK, CALM offers support, a helpline and a webchat specifically for men feeling suicidal or anyone can call the Samaritans on 116 123. You can email the Samaritans too if talking is too much on firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for a full list of resources and support services.
Please share this post to show support and encourage anyone holding it in to reach out.