Chester Bennington, front man of the rock band Linkin Park died by suicide on the 20th July 2017. He was a close friend of Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden, who died by suicide in May. Suicide is never a private affair. Whilst it may be a solitary act the consequences of suicide are far reaching. People who take their life are motivated by the necessity to resolve the hurt and pain. What they fail to understand is the hurt and pain passed on to those left behind.
Suicide is always confronting and challenges our attitude to life. The death of a friend to suicide may act as a catalyst to embrace life or it may provide permission to act in a similar way. Commenting on Bennington’s death, the American Association of Suicidology said, “Suicide loss survivors—those who have lost a friend or loved one to suicide—are at elevated risk for suicide, themselves.” It is worth considering, “Would Chester Bennington still be alive if his friend Chris Cornell hadn’t taken his life?”
American pop rock band OneRepublic used their official Twitter account to address Chester Bennington’s death in the hours after the news broke.
The band tweeted that “suicide is the devil on earth walking among us,” followed by, “If anyone out there thinks the world is better without you, you are so unspeakably wrong on every level. Get help please.”
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of a personal devil. They would argue that it is not something that lends itself to scientific enquiry. But most people are prepared to accept that evil exists and that it is a destructive force.
Suicide is evil and a destructive force. It shatters families. It destroys communities. It robs young people of a future. It causes immense sadness. It is a leading cause of death in Australia. It advances unchecked. It feels like we are experiencing a suicide tsunami, a wave of death spreading across the globe claiming more than a million lives a year. It leaves you feeling overwhelmed, powerless to affect positive change.
Some believe suicide is not the problem we make it out to be. They argue that it is a basic human right to decide how and when you die. They claim that “suicide is one of the ultimate assertions of personal liberty.”
Social researcher Hugh Mackay warns against reducing suicide to a discussion of individual rights. He argues that suicide has to be regarded as a moral issue due to its lasting impact on other people. He also emphasises our mutual responsibility. He says, “We are born to relate to each other and to foster communities by acknowledging and responding to each other’s needs.” The vast majority of people see it this way. They believe in life, love life, value life, respect life and are committed to preserving life.
Suicide is not easily explained. Sometimes it is mental illness, sometimes it is the everyday pressures of living, and sometimes it is the expectations of the people around us. What is often misunderstood is that people who suicide are not focussed on death but on resolving the inner pain and turmoil. Understanding the suicidal mind allows us to address the underlying causes that drive someone to want to take their life.
Suicide prevention strategies acknowledge the complexity of the problem and insist suicide is a major public health concern. Despite programs to target at risk groups the rates of suicide remain stubbornly high. No-one is beyond the reach of suicide. Doctors, farmers, defence personnel, first responders, tradespeople, actors, musicians, retirees, students and the unemployed are all represented.
American psychiatrist and bestselling author M. Scott Peck wrote about his encounters with evil in his book, “People of the Lie.” He says,
“Evil is in opposition to life. It is that force residing inside or outside of human beings that seeks to kill life or liveliness.”
We live in a world of opposites. They shape the way we perceive existence. Light and darkness, hot and cold, love and loss, life and death, evil and goodness are examples of what C. G Jung describes as “the tension of opposites.” Our experience of one is shaped by the presence of the other.
People who struggle with substance abuse or mental illness experience the tension of opposites. They know how difficult it is to remain positive about life due in part to the conflicting voices they constantly hear. They know the battle is won or lost in the mind.
What do we know of the voices inside our heads? Some voices are positive. They affirm, encourage, counsel, and inspire. Other voices are critical. They mock, ridicule, criticise, confuse, condemn, provoke, unsettle, belittle, and destroy. The negative voices provide a moment-to-moment commentary on our performance, they challenge our past decisions, they highlight our failures, they magnify our weaknesses, and they beat us down at every opportunity. If left unchecked the voices in our heads will take charge of our lives. They imprison us in a sea of harmful and depressing chatter. They bully us into submission.
To live fully we need to be discerning of the forces that would rob us of life. Evil flourishes when we believe the lies it promulgates. A person struggling with suicidal thoughts believes the lie, succumbing to the idea that they are not good enough, not tough enough, not attractive enough, not loving enough, not resilient enough, not successful enough, and not smart enough to make it in life. They see themselves as a failure.
Suicide prevention is about exposing the lies. Whether we are listening to the voices in our own head or supporting someone who is feeling vulnerable we need to address the lies. We need to call them out for what they are. Here are some examples. How they impact on our thinking is captured in brackets:
No-one cares about you anymore. (Feeds our sense of isolation)
You have become a burden to your friends and family. (Encourages a sense of guilt)
You have never achieved anything significant in your life. (Challenges our sense of worth)
You won’t be missed. (Excuses us of any responsibility)
Looking for help won’t get you anywhere. (Confirms our obligation to resolve the matter)
Entertaining the lie places us at high risk. Believing in the lie can have disastrous consequences, giving rise to suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are dangerous thoughts, they are not normal. That is why we need to be brutal in our dealings with lies. We need to act decisively. We need to erase them from our minds. We need to replace them with positive affirmations, words that remind us we are not alone, we are loved, we have worth and we are needed.
OneRepublic are right. When your world is imploding, get help. There is no shame in admitting we can’t make it on our own.
“If anyone out there thinks the world is better without you, you are so unspeakably wrong on every level. Get help please.”