A Word About Suicide
On July 20, 2017, my friend Chester lost his battle with depression and took his own life.
I could write several pages on what made him special: his kindness, generosity, and tender heart. His humor and resilience. But this isn't a tribute to that half of the story. This is about his death.
Since that horrific day, I've learned many things about suicide. Like that every year 1.1 million people in the US attempt it. Every 12 minutes one of them succeeds. That's 5 deaths an hour. 120 deaths each and every day. 75% of those successful suicides are men.
That's a lot of hurting people who don't believe there's any hope for things to get better. People who don't reach out for the help they need for a variety of reasons. And it really is a variety. There are as many paths to suicide as there are shades of mental illness. It's impossible to lump them all into a single explanation because suicide isn't that simple. You can't even come up with a definitive answer for a single person. It's a culmination of wounds that lead to a break, and most of those wounds are hidden from view. You may never know which one pushed them over the edge.
It's an unsatisfying answer when you're looking back for the moment depression became lethal. You want to know what clue you missed. What was different this time when depression was a common theme with someone. How can you tell when things are going wrong with someone else you love? The truth is you can't always tell. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, trust your gut.
It starts with knowing the warning signs of someone in trouble:
If this describes you or someone you love, the next step is finding help. I won't pretend it's easy. Asking for help is difficult. Finding resources to assist someone who doesn't want help is harder, but this is where you start:
Change Direction is a nonprofit working to break open the discussion about mental health. This isn't something we should be whispering in the corners because silence is deadly. It's something we need to be as comfortable discussing with each other as we are physical illness. Change Direction can provide not only contact info for national suicide hotlines but information about local resources in your area.
In the old days, mourning a loss was a community event. Not only with a memorial service, but with tokens, stories, and rituals that helped the survivors deal with their grief. Today we don't do that. Grief is something society says we should keep private after the first few days, locked away while we pretend the loss doesn't hurt anymore. The truth is, to process the grief we need space to share it. Keeping it quiet makes that process much harder than it needs to be. If you've suffered a loss, look for a local support group. If you can't find one locally, check Facebook or Yahoo Groups. I can testify from personal experience that keeping it all to yourself only makes the grief worse. It's worth it to find a supportive space where you can talk through your feelings with people who understand.
This one can be difficult for some people. Seeking professional help is a big step. It can also have big rewards. However, there are obstacles: finding a qualified professional that can work with your schedule, and price! Most medical insurance will cover at least a few counseling sessions. If yours doesn't, you don't have medical coverage, or the idea of talking with someone face-to-face is too intimidating, I have an alternative! Online counseling is a relatively new option, but I've used it myself and can testify that with the right counselor, you can get a lot out of it. The fact that you can switch counselors at will gives you the freedom to find the right fit. And the ability to contact them as many times as needed during the week makes it great for letting off steam between appointments. Check out the American Psychological Association's recommendations for some services to try.
Whether your issue is depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, manic depression, or any of a thousand other stripes of mental illness you're not alone. I encourage you to Google support groups that cater to your specific issue and take advantage of the community they provide. You deserve to feel like you belong.
Society's stigma about mental illness makes it seem like we're all alone. The truth is we're not. Right now millions of other people around the world are suffering from the same issues as you, regardless of what those issues are. Someone out there knows exactly how you feel. Maybe they're in the middle of it. Maybe they've already been through it and can offer advice on how to cope.
Reach out to someone. Anyone. Tell them your story. Admit you're not okay. You'll be surprised how many others echo that same confession.
If you're dealing with the suicide of someone you loved, plagued by questions and doubts and guilt, I encourage you to watch this TED talk by Sue Klebold. She helped me understand a few simple truths about suicide. I hope she helps you, too. (Don't let the title fool you. It really is a talk about suicide.)
Remember, it's okay that we're all fucked up as long as we're not in it alone.
Chester C. Bennington
1976 - 2017