I was a huge Chester Bennington fan. Specifically because Linkin Park sings a song on one of the Transformers albums that I love. Whenever a famous celebrity commits suicide and we bring a spotlight onto this horrible subject for a hot second there are a lot of contentious viewpoints. At the core humanity is uncomfortable with two things- death and mental illness. Combine those together and many feelings evolve. You may ask what the hell this has to do with being a lesbian. Absolutely nothing. That’s the point. I do not go through my entire day in the mindset of “lesbian”. I go through my days as a human being. I am affected in the same way other human beings are by negative news. I also work in mental health so suicide is kind of a big deal to me.
I worked with a psychiatrist for a long time, and the first time we had a patient suicide after discharge he said to me, “Psychiatric illness has a mortality rate.” I thought he was callous. Now I realize that he was right.
Family members often feel like they failed their loved one who suicides. When in reality we failed them. We as healthcare professionals and scientists have not cured mental illness. Just like oncologists have not cured cancer and cardiologists have not cured heart disease. Every single medical illness has a mortality rate including psychiatric illness. That’s what he meant, he was trying to normalize psychiatric illness and view it as a medical illness.
People will bring you lasagne when your family member is hospitalized with cancer. They may not even know if your family member is hospitalized for psychiatric reasons because of your own shame in revealing it.
There is stigma around brain illnesses because we can’t see them and they are based mostly on subjective reports of feelings. But I promise you they are real. People are suffering. People feel desperate and hopeless and isolated because in their desperation and hopelessness they know there is a stigma around mental illness and they are terrified to reach out for help.
I’ve had patients sobbing telling me the only reason they haven’t killed themselves yet is because of their dog, cat, brother, mother, etc. I tell them whatever it takes to get them through the day I will support. I see people at their worst and in their worst when they are hitting rock bottom it is then that I see their best. Because I have seen people drag themselves to my office for therapy they don’t want. Pay for medications they detest needing. Drive to the job they are fearful of losing on a minute by minute basis. Take care of their family- kids, husband, wife etc.- when they feel like they are barely surviving themselves. We call people who fight cancer survivors, but what about those silent victims of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD? Every day they draw a breath they are as much survivors as anyone battling an illness.
I’ve heard people say suicide is selfish. I can tell you from my experience with patients they feel living and being a drain on their family or friends is selfish. In their eyes they are actually providing relief to everyone around them. Reaching that point of depression, self loathing, desperation, and hopelessness is unimaginable to most people. Just like hearing that diagnosis of cancer, Parkinson’s, MS, MD, etc. Until we re-evaluate our views on mental illness and pour our hearts and souls and money into treating it and finding the cures that are so desperately needed then more people will die.
Rest in peace Chester.