Today we celebrate the life of one of our most beloved heroes and icons: Chester Bennington. For those of you who don't know who Chester is, he was the much loved vocalist for the band Linkin Park – Zoe and I have loved this band immensely for half our lives, since we first heard their debut single “One Step Closer” way back in high school when we were only a little bit less pissed off than we are now with the state of the world, and our immensely difficult teenage lives.
Chester was the voice of a generation. If you are not a millennial and or a metal fan then this incredible band may have bypassed you completely. Although they have had huge commercial success globally and remain one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 70 million albums worldwide. Linkin Park's unique sound made them inimitable and their passion and pain spoke to so many of us as teenagers, and we grew up with them.
Chester's overriding message in his music that spoke of loss, pain, fear and the darkness that so many of us battle with on a daily basis, was this: you are not alone. We knew that we could battle on because he was, too. His lyrics seemed to vocalise the internal agony that so many of us suffer. When we are jilted by lovers, when our friends and family die, when people come and go out of our lives leaving behind love and pain and the anger and frustration. When we are pissed off we can scream along with “Given Up” and when we feel utter despair, wail along to “Crawling”.
Chester Bennington committed suicide on July 20th 2017, on what would have been his best friend Chris Cornell's (another world famous musician, lead singer of the band Soundgarden) 53rd birthday. Chris Cornell also died committing suicide, leaving the rock music world heartbroken at the loss of an incredible artist.
It has now been a year since Chester left behind his beautiful wife and six children, and an entire generation of heartbroken adoring fans of all ages. This is someone who achieved international fame, success and admiration, who used music to ease his pain and connect with others, and still felt he had no way out but death.
According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally. Male suicide is the main cause of death for men under 50 in the UK, the USA and Australia. Just let that sink in for a moment. Not cancer. Not road traffic accidents. Not heart disease. Suicide.
Image source: www.biggerissues.co.uk
So what's going on? What's causing it?
In an article for melmagazine.com, C. Brian Smith states:
“In most Western countries, three-quarters of all suicides are by men and older boys. Women have higher rates of attempted suicide, but men are three times more likely to actually die from suicide.”
So what is happening here? What is causing men to take such desperate action? It has been suggested that suicide rates are so high due to the messages men receive about what it takes to be 'masculine' and 'strong' in our society, such as 'boys don't cry' and that instead they should 'man up'.
For someone who sings and speaks so candidly about their feelings, it came as a huge shock to Linkin Park fans, as well as Chester's own family and the band, that he took his own life. This is a man that we all looked to, to vocalise our pain, to scream along in solidarity – he never seemed afraid or ashamed of sharing his very deep and profound feelings. I doubt anyone would ever think to tell him to 'man up'.
Messages of what it means to be a man and how to manage your feelings start at an early age. Baby vests brandishing slogans of how boys are strong, handsome, tough, not to be messed with, 'big and strong like Daddy' etc. are pervasive in our culture. We are literally telling our babies that strength applies only physically. Emotional intelligence is hardly every explored with young boys and even many men struggle with the concept.
The romance novel archetype of a physically strong, rugged, and handsome man, who is also in touch with his feelings and able to express them with wild abandon is almost like a Unicorn in reality – do these men exist? Of course we know they do. I know a great deal of men who are very open about their feelings and will express them freely without regard for negative rebuttal. I also know a great deal of equally wonderful men who have a real issue with expressing their feelings, either verbally or physically. So why do so many men hide their emotions? Perhaps because showing emotions is deemed 'weak' or 'feminine' and it's deemed safer or more socially acceptable, more 'manly' to keep schtum.
“The way men and boys view themselves is societally determined to a large extent. Masculinity has a broader definition than in the past, but the traditional view — being tough, not wearing your heart on your sleeve, etc. — is still fairly pervasive.”
BCMJ.org suggests that this 'silent epidemic' can be overcome:
“Only by breaking the silence—building public awareness, refining explanatory frameworks, implementing preventive strategies, and undertaking research—will we overcome this epidemic.”
In other words, it's time to talk. Check in with your friends. Don't wait for them to tell you they are feeling low or experiencing depression or anxiety. Encourage your male friends to talk. Teach your little boys to express their feelings in healthy ways, tell them it's okay to cry, comfort and cuddle them. Accept that depression and feelings of suicide often need medicating and help people obtain the support they need, via talking therapies, holistic treatments etc. Don't tell anyone to 'man up' or 'just snap out of it'.
This is an issue that has affected Zoe and I on a very personal level, having both lost people we love to suicide in recent years. Both men. And the deep feelings of regret and sadness are apparent many years down the line. Could I have done more? Why didn't he talk to me? He was the life and soul of the party – no one could have guessed he would do this – how could someone seemingly so happy take his own life? Why didn't anyone help him? Many of these questions will remain unanswered for us and many others who have tragically lost friends, family, loved ones, respected colleagues, or even music idols. But Zoe and I are extremely vocal about mental health issues and will always use this blog to promote causes we feel strongly about.
As we celebrate the life of one of our most beloved idols, we remember the impact he has had on both our lives, and will dedicate much of today listening to our favourite records and no doubt shedding a few tears as we think of Chester, and all the men we have loved and lost to this tragic 'silent epidemic'.
We encourage you to talk and share your stories, support and love one another, and keep fighting. Hold on.
How can you support people who are suicidal?
Samaritans offers plenty of advice and information here.
Do you need support after a loss?
Check out Support After Suicide Partnership for help and advice here.
Are you feeling suicidal?
Talk to your family, friends or GP. You can also call Samaritans on 116 123, this helpline is open 24hrs a day, seven days a week.
Rest In Peace, Chester
World Health Organisation http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/
C. Brian Smith “Making Sense of Why Western Men Are So Much More Likely to Kill Themselves” - Mel Magazine - https://melmagazine.com/making-sense-of-the-western-worlds-suicide-epidemic-17ddf84e8df0
Dan Bilsker; Jennifer White “The Silent Epidemic of Male Suicide”