We Still Need to Talk about Chester Bennington

By which I mean: we need to talk about how we talk about suicide.

N.B., my thanks to Anna Shinoda in particular for these words, which pushed me to finally put my own tangential assertions out there, alongside hers: “Words matter. When we say “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide” we focus on the illness rather than blaming the survivors or the deceased. The answer to “why did someone die by suicide?” is always “mental illness.” That is the reason. And if we can start there, we can move forward, not only to prevent more suicides but to help more people find mental health.”

With that, I agree wholeheartedly.

In echoing and adding to: I’ve long held the belief, and now do so publicly:

Mental illness is a chronic disease with a high mortality rate.

To call it anything less only adds to the problem.


Memorial Mural by Jonas Never (Los Angeles)


It’s been just over two months since his death, and we need to talk about Chester Bennington.

And when I say We need to talk about Chester Bennington, what I mean is that we need to talk about how we talk about and conceptualise suicide. And we’ve been far, far more than two months overdue for this chat.

I start with Chester Bennington, though, because his loss was two things in particular. One, it was a loss close to me, even at the distance that celebrity brings with it — Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory was among the first albums I ever bought, Linkin Park was my first concert (and I don’t know how many times I’ve seen them live because I’ve lost count), Linkin Park has carried me through the ups and downs and in-betweens of the past 17 years of my life, and I’ve been and forever will be grateful for that, so losing Chester felt like losing a friend who understood me better than most, a poet who, alongside his fellow artists, spoke to and often calmed my soul. It was the loss of something deep and primordial in what he created, and the silencing of his part of a symphony that will never be the same.

Two, though: the loss of Chester Bennington represents the ways in which we’re keen, as a society, to face the issue of suicide only when it hits home, or it hits huge — it’s a personal loss, or a loss so public, on such a grand scale that again, only celebrity can really bring. I’m mostly interested, just now, in that second instance. Why?

Because that second instance provides distance, and anonymity, to say and respond in ways one wouldn’t dare up-close. The criticism, the judgement, the ill-informed opinions and sometimes just the flat out cruelty seems to seep into the limelight; so, too, does well-meaning offers of a friendly ear or a cup of tea, or the insistence that someone would be okay if they only talked to someone and told them of their suffering, and the offer of that is the natural response in kind: but I say well-meaning quite intentionally. Because it’s a beautiful sentiment.

But too often it’s backed by a misunderstanding that, while often not outright offensive, can be similarly harmful.

So we need to talk about Chester Bennington as another reminder of the reality of suicidal ideation, its insidiousness, its connected afflictions (in brief), and what it looks like — which is rarely what people expect it to. But more than this:

We need to talk about Chester Bennington as another reminder of the reality of suicidal ideation, and that we’re not doing anything effective to stop it.

Part of that, I’d hazard a guess, is because we don’t understand it. Beyond the stigma (which in itself hinders the ability and inclination to learn), we as a society have these preconceived notions of what we’re dealing with, and those notions are what we use to figure out how to respond. It’s how we’re taught to learn and problem solve, and there’s no shame in going there first.

The problem lies in the fact that we keep going there, stopping there, and pretending the problem is solved, when in fact the problem’s getting worse.

And after watching so many reactions to this celebrity death after so many, too many deaths everywhere, from all walks of life, I’m going to go ahead and say it: those notions, at large?

Are wrong.

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