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Music

Chester Bennington's death puts spotlight on suicide and mental health

The death of Linkin Park's Chester Bennington is another so-called celebrity suicide that is putting much needed focus on the devastating consequences of mental illness.

In the US alone, over 44,000 Americans die from suicide each year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That's approximately 121 deaths a day by suicide. Meanwhile, men are three-and-a-half times more likely to suicide than women.

This concerning rates of suicide have been brought into focus following the death of Chester Bennington, singer with the band Linkin Park  and the suicide in May of Chris Cornell, the lead singer and songwriter of 90s grunge band, Soundgarden

Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington's death has refocused the male suicide epidemic

But why is the issue often only discussed following so-called celebrity suicides?

Not just another celebrity suicide

Men's suicide has often been referred to as a "silent epidemic," and researchers have tried to understand why men are so much more prone to taking their own lives.

In the UK, for instance, a charity called The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is dedicated to preventing male suicide, the biggest killer of men under the 45 in the UK. Seventy-five percent of all UK suicides were male.

Men have been turning to CALM in the wake of Bennington's death, the organisation having an information tent this week at the Secret Garden Festival near London.

Meanwhile, the author and editor Poorna Bell, who wrote a memoir based around her own husband's mental health problems and eventual suicide in 2015, "Chase the Rainbow," said on twitter that "#ChesterBenningtonRIP isn't yet another celeb death - he is every man who died by suicide."

Writing in the Huffington Post, Bell said: "If these men are taking their own lives - often out of the blue - we must have an intelligent, introspective look at why this is happening."

Fear of copycats

Are the fears of a "copycat effect" following such high profile suicides valid? Or do they result in greater awareness - suicides dropped following the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, for instance, according to a study by the Catholic University of America, as reported in Newsweek in 2014.

"A single suicide increases the risk of additional suicides in a community - timely today while many impacted by a celebrity death," tweeted Jaelea Skehan, the director of Australia's  Hunter Institute, a leading national organisation committed to reducing mental illness and suicide.

She added that the media need to also be responsible in the way they report so-called celebrity suicides.

Battling demons

Bennington himself had long been outspoken about his own battles with drugs and depression, especially through his music.

"Right when you think you've got it all figured out and everything's good, life comes and kicks you right in the nuts," said Bennington in his so-called 'last interview', a response to fans questions aired on Youtube. "And every time it can't get any worse and you think life sucks and it's never going to get any better, all of a sudden the sun comes a shinin'," he added.

World Suicide Prevention Day: fighting taboo to talk about one of our worst killers

In Men's Health magazine in May following the death of Chris Cornell, writer Mike Zimmerman related an interview he had conducted about 11 years before with the Soundgarden singer, then 42.

"I was depressed for a long time," said Cornell in the interview that took place in New York. "If you're depressed long enough, it's almost a comfort, a state of mind that you've made peace with because you've been in it so long. It's a very selfish world.”

In the wake of Cornell's death by suicide, Zimmerman wondered "if guys can ever completely outrun their demons." 

musician Chris Cornell performs on stage during Conde Nast's Fashion Rocks show in New York. (picture alliance/AP Photo/J.Christensen)

Chris Cornell had long battled with depression before his death in May, 2017

He again quoted Cornell: "For me, I always had one foot in this very dark, lonely, isolated world," said the revered musician. "Most of the guys I grew up with ended up with the same struggles that I've had, which is you have every desire to communicate with your friends, family, with anyone, and absolutely no skill as to how to do it."

Such soul searching will continue in the wake of another high profile death by suicide. For the families who have been devastated by suicide, or for groups like CALM, the hope will be that progress is finally made to stem this silent epidemic.

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