Chester Bennington's death shows depression's pretty damn real

The tragic death of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington sparked an immediate outpouring of grief on Friday, with fans and pundits quick to pay tribute to the man who helped propel the rap-metal movement into the mainstream. Much like the deaths of Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell in May this year and comedian Robin Williams in 2014, Bennington’s apparent suicide led a large number of mostly-well-meaning people to ask the question “why?”.

Why would this 41-year-old rock star, who had achieved more success than most could ever dream of, make such a decision? Why would a man with six beautiful children and a loving partner choose to go out this way?  

On social media, a typical, though disheartening, number of people slammed Bennington for his “selfishness” in posts that only got less charitable from there.

But as with so many things in life, the reasons why anyone takes their own life are not so black and white; they are inherently complex. Fans of Bennington and Linkin Park – which has sold more than 70 million records since its 2000 breakout hit One Step Closer – will attest that the band regularly explored themes of frustration, rejection and anger. Bennington had also been open about the fact that childhood abuse was a major factor in his personal battle with drugs and alcohol. Bennington was also a close friend of Cornell – performing Leonard Cohen's Hallejuah at his recent memorial service – and died on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday. 

As someone who as a young man identified with Linkin Park’s angst-driven music and who experienced bouts of depression, I also ask why.

Why do we as a society mourn suicide, particularly when it claims the life of a famous person, and yet so often deny the depression that lies behind it?

In Australia, organisations such as ReachOut and beyondblue and events like the annual RUOK Day have done so much in recent years to remove the stigma surrounding depression and mental illness.

But the fact remains that in too many places, acknowledging that you are battling some demons is seen as expressing weakness. A disturbing number of people continue to talk about depression as though it is not as serious as other health issues, uttering phrases like “why don’t you just get over it” or “you just need to tell yourself to be happy” – phrases that are far less helpful than intended. 

The truth is that, according to beyondblue, 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition at some time in their life.

Last year, Fairfax Media reported that in the decade from 2004-14 we lost 19,995 Australian men to suicide. The Australian Bureau of Statistics also reported that suicide rates reached a 10-year high, with a revised death toll of 2864 in 2014 – of which 2160 were male.

Enough is enough. We must use tragedies like the death of Bennington to roundly reject any notion that seeking out therapy or taking prescribed medication is something to be ashamed of. We must empower people to believe and understand that if they need help, they will be listened to.

As rocker George Shrouder tweeted after learning of Bennington’s death: “Depression is hard to understand. But if it can kill Robin Williams, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, I'd say it's pretty damn real.”

Matt Crossman is a Fairfax Media journalist.

If you need help, phone:

  • Lifeline 131 144
  • beyondblue 1300 22 4636.