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Numb: Depression in the Music Industry
THE tragic suicide of Linkin Park frontman…
Chester Bennington has, not only shocked the music industry and fans throughout the world, but put into sharp contrast an issue that is silent and indiscriminate: anxiety and depression in music. I know it is not a new phenomenon but, considering if it is the second huge suicide in a few months – Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell earlier this year – it makes me wonder why musicians, who have admiration and success, get to the stage where they would take their own lives. It seems like a last resort that many are confused by. I have been gauging the comments from fans and followers of Bennington. All have been stating how impactful his music was and remains to this day – some encountered Linkin Park as their first gig and it was a formative and life-changing experience. Others, with as much passion, quoted lyrics from the band that touched them. It seems, from a musician who seemed to understand the pain and torment that can break a person, to get to the stage when he saw no way out – and take his own life. Many of the commentators come to the same conclusion: how did it get to that point?! It is a simple and blunt point but not meant to judge or condemn. Instead, there is confusion and sadness. It seemed, from the outside, Bennington was okay, adjusted and fine. In fact, he was active on social media shortly before he died. There was no big 'cry for help' or any signs that the Linkin Park singer would commit suicide. That is the thing with depression: many who become that helpless and severe will kept it secret and not tell others. It would not have been a snap decision or something that was spur of the moment: it would have been as a result of past events, depression and a gradual build-up. Not to pour into the background of Bennington – he was abused when he was younger; could have contributed to his demons – but nobody will truly know why it happened and what was the ‘final straw’, as it were. Depression and anxiety and complex and, a lot of times, silent. I think about Chris Cornell and the reasons why, mere minutes after he came off the stage at a Soundgarden gig, he committed suicide. There, anxiety medication – and their adverse reactions – could have played a part but, when he took to the stage that night, he had already taken the medication.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Ehrmann/WireImage
People noticed he was slurring and out of time with the band. In the day before he got up on stage at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, he was on Twitter saying how pumped he was; how the gig was a massive one and it would be a dream gig. How, then, could a man like Cornell go from that elation and excitement to suicidal in such a short time? Did the anxiety medication help take the edge off nerves: did that, in turn, exacerbate the depression he has – that which, ultimately, led to his suicide?! If that were true, and he would have survived without the medication, it raised other issues. Do we need to set up campaigns, counselling services and measures so people do not need to take medication – some which can have life-threatening side-effects? Depression is a complex issue and, no matter how bad it can get, sometimes, people can see no other way to deal with it. One can say, yes, Bennington has millions of fans and that success behind him. How, then, could he either consider suicide – let alone go through with it?! It is easy enough when you are on the outside. One cannot imagine what was in his mind and what was happening around him in the days and weeks before his death. The wounds are, obviously, very fresh so I will not get into the whys and hows of his death. I have seen posting links to mental health charities: if you are in the same position, speak out before it gets to that stage. It seems there is that assumption that the reason people like Bennington commit suicide is, because, they feel alone and like there is nobody to talk to. Is that another reason why high-profile musicians’ deaths seem so stark?! One would think, given their fame, they’d be surrounded by friends and aids. This is a misconception and not always the case. One could not well post a warning message on Twitter and expect fans to help him through and talk him around. Depression is such a heavy and complicated beast: often, it takes more than words and therapy to cure someone. If you get to the stage when you take your life; chances are, all other options would have been explored and exhausted.
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That seems bleak but there is no single fix or easy way to resolve things. As someone who has suffered depression for eighteen years now; I can attest to how relentless and enigmatic depression is. I have tried counselling and talking – and bleaker things than that – and find it is not helpful or that comforting. Even if someone tries to cheer you or make changes: the problems are still there and you are the same person you were before. Depression is invisible and taking a theological, conversational approach to a chemical imbalance is a hit-and-miss approach. Some will find therapy and discussion open up a hidden burden and means others can help tackle things. In other cases, the mind overcomes and overwhelms everything else. If you have a past trauma or have been low for so long; there will be little discussion can do to mitigate and cure that. Depression is so varied and individual: it cannot be distilled to a single ailment and, as such, have a common remedy. One cannot say that, if Bennington has talked to people weeks/months/years ago, he would be here today. That would be a naïve assumption and insulting to his fight. Other say there is never a depression so bad the only way out would be suicide. I have seen others say that Bennington’s money and fame would have provided a comfort blanket and happiness most are not afforded. It does not matter how famous you are and how many fans you have. One cannot buy happiness – as we know so well – and success can often be the catalyst for self-destruction and isolation. It makes me wonder whether put too much pressure on musicians and whether platforms on social media make them more vulnerable and susceptible? Again, this is a forensic and hypothetical approach but are people becoming more anonymous and detached on Twitter and Facebook? Of course, one could read and see pictures/comments from the likes of Bennington and Cornell and think nothing of it. What is happening in their homes and away from the computer screen is undocumented and the other side of the coin.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
In many ways, if one were to reveal heartache and depression online, it leaves them prey to trolls and those who will add fuel to the fire. Are people feeling like social media is more an evil than benefit?! I would be remiss to be that revealing on social media. Not only would the responses be, I think, few but the advice might seem cliché and predictable. That is not a shot on good intentions but telling someone ‘you’ll be okay’ or ‘see a doctor before it gets worse’ is rather obvious. Chester Bennington knows all this – and knew how many people loved him – but that wouldn’t have made the difference. As I said; depression is not a single thing and nobody can say how it can be cured (if at all) and how bad it is. Maybe it seems redundant to mention it but I wonder whether we should do more to tackle stigma and issues surrounding it. Depression is an illness and, unlike cancer and other maladies, is not provided as much research and financing. Should the government do more to ensure the health service is set up to deal with the growing mental health crisis. That is what it is: millions away from the music industry go through the same and, sadly, many feel the only way to silence the pain is to commit suicide. The fact we live in a time when the plague of depression is killing so many seems shocking and unacceptable. I feel social media is a mixed blessing and something that is making people feel more alone and anonymous in many ways. It has its benefits and positives but how instrumental is to someone’s mental health and its well-being? Coming back to Chester Bennington and maybe commercial and critical pressures were a factor. Linkin Park released their current album, One More Light, was released in May and received mixed reviews. Many were scathing and said the band were past their best days. Bennington lashed out against critics who claimed the band had sold out and gone soft. He felt they had matured and it was a natural evolution. Critics are entitled to their opinions but it makes me wonder how detrimental and destructive bad reviews can be to a musician’s mental health.
IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Cornell
In the same way there would have been huge pressure on Chris Cornell’s shoulders – before Soundgarden’s gig back in May – maybe the reaction and backlash concerning One More Light was another wound Bennington could not shake off. Perhaps it is not productive analysing and speculating but it is clear we need to take a more proactive and reactive approach to depression. Governments around the world are not spending as much tackling the illness at its roots. Every notable suicide creates a wave of sadness and anger but, when that dies down, do we simply 'move on'? I have said how complex depression is so throwing money at it is not going to be as helpful in a lot of ways. I wonder whether we need to look at the way people are treated on social media; the pressure we put on our biggest musicians and whether, when someone confesses depression, we should detach them, to an extent, away from music and force them to get help. Bennington, right from Linkin Park’s debut album, used music as a way of talking about addiction and depression. Such a raw and honest approach to personal issues resonated with fans and helped so many people deal with their own problems – sad and ironic the author and mouthpiece could not find enough in those words to save himself. I don’t know but feel there is a needlessness and waste. Nobody should get to the point where suicide is the only option: huge musicians like Chester Bennington show how indiscriminate and cruel depression is. I’ll end with something positive – and have created a Linkin Park playlist at the bottom – by stating how important Bennington was to many. I am reading social media comments and people thanking him (Bennington) for the music. It is clear how influential Linkin Park were/are. Many formed a band off of the strength of their 2000 debut, Hybrid Theory. Songs like Numb and In the End are classics of the early-2000s and that album has been ranked as one of the finest in all of Rock. Chester Bennington understood the pains of depression and the Devil of addiction. Many Linkin Park fans were going through the same things; teenagers and young listeners felt less alone and found someone who understood what they were going through.
A band that fought against the generic and mindless themes that were circulating in Rock/Nu-Metal of the time (of their debut) came in with a bold and substantial brand of music that connected with millions. So many set up bands – emulating Linkin Park and entranced by their spirit and sound – whilst many dedicated themselves to the band. A frontman who shared so much of himself through the music, to get to the point where he wanted out of life, has created confusion in many. We must address depression and suicide but it is just as important celebrating the life of a musician who changed so many people’s lives. His legacy will remain forever and many, myself included, preserve his music and find guidance and comfort in it. It was brutal and savage at times but it is that willingness to share himself with the audience that makes it so inspiring and special. Not many artists feel the desire to let people into their souls – whether it is quite traumatic and raw – but that is what made Chester Bennington so special. I will close this by thanking Bennington for his services to music and the enormous impact he made. When the dust has settled, we have to accept that the mental health crisis is getting out of control. It affects celebrities and civilians alike; striking those most undeserving and forcing people to take their life. It seems such a tragedy and one that, in a lot of cases, can be avoided. If you are in a situation where you feel like nobody else around you knows what you’re going through; it is always worth exploring every option. I will finish by borrowing words from NME’s Andrew Trendell. In an article published yesterday - some sage advice came through. In the piece, these words seemed to stand out:
“Experiences vary, and sometimes we might not notice it creeping up on us or our friends or family, but things you would commonly spot are feelings of low confidence, feeling worthless, hopeless, guilty, more irritable and angry than usual, or an inability to enjoy things,” said a spokesman from the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). “Someone might have repetitive negative thoughts, you may feel you are in a bubble: you can’t reach out, and others can’t reach you. A flat feeling. You might know you love your partner or family, but you can’t feel it.
Physically we might experience low levels of energy, finding it hard to do anything, often to the point where it feels impossible to get out of bed. This can actually be experienced as aches and pains. Sleep may also be affected: too little or too much… CALM added: “If you’re struggling, tell someone you trust. Someone you know who will listen and take you seriously, and don’t worry about how it comes out. ‘I feel shit’ will do to start things off. This first step of talking about it can be the hardest, but the overwhelming majority of people we speak to say it was a relief to let somebody else know and they got a really positive response.”
The symptoms and those brave, important next steps
One in four people are effected by mental health issues each and every year. It can be hard to talk openly about your issues, but you may be surprised at how supportive people can be.
We spoke to leading charities and experts about how to tell if you might be suffering with depression, and how to make that brave move of figuring out what to do next.
“Experiences vary, and sometimes we might not notice it creeping up on us or our friends or family, but things you would commonly spot are feelings of low confidence, feeling worthless, hopeless, guilty, more irritable and angry than usual, or an inability to enjoy things,” said a spokesman from the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). “Someone might have repetitive negative thoughts, you may feel you are in a bubble: you can’t reach out, and others can’t reach you. A flat feeling. You might know you love your partner or family, but you can’t feel it. Physically we might experience low levels of energy, finding it hard to do anything, often to the point where it feels impossible to get out of bed. This can actually be experienced as aches and pains. Sleep may also be affected: too little or too much”.
“If you were looking out for a mate you may see them withdraw from social situations but sometimes they may party all the time,” says CALM. “With blokes particularly, drugs and alcohol are often used as a way of dealing with these feelings. It can also take less to ‘snap’ at others. The important thing is that if you see a change in someone, be there for them, ask them how they’ve been doing and be willing to listen without judgment.”
CALM added: “If you’re struggling, tell someone you trust. Someone you know who will listen and take you seriously, and don’t worry about how it comes out. ‘I feel shit’ will do to start things off. This first step of talking about it can be the hardest, but the overwhelming majority of people we speak to say it was a relief to let somebody else know and they got a really positive response.”
Mental Health charity Young Minds listed some symptoms of depression as:
- Not wanting to do things that you previously enjoyed
- Not wanting to meet up with friends or avoiding social situations
- Sleeping more or less than normal
- Eating more or less than normal
- Feeling irritable, upset, miserable or lonely
- Being self-critical
- Feeling hopeless
- Wanting to self-harm
- Feeling tired and not having any energy
“The most important thing you can do if you think you’re depressed is talk to someone,” a Young Minds spokesman added. “This could be a friend, a family member, a teacher, a colleague, a GP, a counsellor or a confidential helpline. Don’t suffer in silence. Talking about how you’re feeling can really make a difference.”
But what do you do next?
Sue Baker from the charity Time To Change gave us the following top tips – apply these when thinking about having your first conversation about your mental health with someone:
- Be prepared: “Think about the different reactions – positive and negative – that the person might have so you’re prepared. The person will be thinking about their perception of mental health problems, you as a person and how the two fit together.”
- Choose a good time: “Choose a time and place when you feel comfortable and ready to talk.”
- Be ready for lots of questions… or none: “The person you are talking to might have lots of questions or need further information to help them understand. Or they might feel uncomfortable and try to move the conversation on – if this happens it’s still helpful that the first step has been taken.”
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- An initial reaction might not last: “The person might initially react in a way that’s not helpful – maybe changing the subject, or responding with unhelpful advice or clichés rather than listening. But give them time – it might be the first time they’ve ever had a conversation about mental health.”
- Have some information ready: “Sometimes people find it easier to find out more in their own time. You might want to download some information from the Time to Change website.”
- Keep it light: “We know that sometimes people are afraid to talk about mental health because they feel they don’t know what to say or how to help. So keeping the conversation light will help make you both feel relaxed.”
- Courage is contagious: “Often once mental health is out in the open, people want to talk. Don’t be surprised if your honesty encourages other people to talk about their own experiences.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
“Equally, if you’re looking out for a friend, there are lots of simple, everyday ways you can support someone who has a mental health problem,” added Sue. “Small things can make a big difference – like being there to listen, keeping in touch and reminding the other person that you care. You don’t need to be an expert to talk to someone with a mental health problem. And it’s often the small things you do and say that can make a big difference to someone – like asking ‘How are you?’ or dropping them a text to say hello.”
FOR HELP AND ADVICE ON MENTAL HEALTH:
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably for young men
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day
I hope some, if not all, of that advice, is of use – for anyone who feels they are alone and scared. Let’s hope we see fewer suicides in the music industry and we take a more direct and long-lasting approach to mental health service reformation and strengthening. Deaths like that of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington highlight an alarming problem and one we can all do something to improve/extinguish. In all the sadness and pain people are feeling today, it is just as important to celebrate a singular and extraordinary musician who…
CHANGED so many lives for the better.