by Julie A. Fast, coauthor of Loving Someone With Bipolar
As a society, we can recognize the symptoms of artists who are depressed and get them into treatment instead of raising up their tortured art and then wondering why they die.
Rock star suicides are nothing new. I’m reminded of Ian Curtis, Micheal Hutchence, and Curt Cobain. I recently wrote an article about the death of Chris Cornell, and sadly, I now write about the death of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.
Once again, the world has lost a vibrant, young, and seemingly “have it all” kind of man. I want to first share my sadness at the loss of yet another person who simply didn’t need to die, but this time my heart is not breaking. This time I’m getting mad. The frustration is rising and I feel a call to action is in order.
Chester Bennington’s “Demons”
Chester’s bandmates said they understood his “demons” were always a part of him and something that made the group more “human.” I know they are trying to make sense of losing a vibrant, intelligent, talented and very, very successful man. Unfortunately, this way of talking is a major part of the problem. The way we talk about someone who dies from suicide perpetuates the myth that it’s something specific to their identity that killed the person—instead of a well-documented result of an illness called depression.
When a rock star dies from suicide, we are shocked. And the typical, loving but ignorant words come out full force. He battled his demons, and they were eventually too strong for him is something I’ve read more times that I can count.
These demons sure are busy.
Did people talk about David Bowie like this when he died? Actor Gary Oldman said, “David faced his illness with dignity, grace and his customary humor. Even in dire circumstances.” What, no demons? Somehow losing a battle to cancer is valiant whereas losing the battle to depression through suicide is an emotional struggle with the self, and the self always loses.
Why is depression a demon when cancer, MS, diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell anemia, and so many other conditions are deadly illnesses?
Talking About Depression the Same Way We Talk About Cancer and Diabetes
Darkness, devils, wells, canyons, caverns, caves, roads to nowhere, black hole suns, crying in pain and wanting to die make great song lyrics, but they are not real emotions. They are the language of depression and if we want our artists to live, we have to teach them that talking like this is a sign of illness, and not just creativity. Chester Pennington didn’t have demons. He had an illness that spoke a language that all depressed people speak.
Depressed people are not reliable sources. We will tell you to leave us alone. We want to isolate. We need our art and our music, our poems and our drama. The illness tells us this. Unless you have depression, you will never understand what is feels like, so just trust me and know that you and every person who is stable needs to grab the “tortured artist” and force this in his or her ear hole:
You have depression. You are sick. Here are the symptoms. They affect you in this way. Here is a list of what you think, say and do when you get down. When you are stable you do not say these things. When you are stable, you are a fun loving, creative, fabulous and actually quite normal dad. Your music is not better because you suffer. Depression tells you one thing and the world is telling you another. I’m getting you help and I’m not going to stop. There is nothing wrong with YOU. There is something off track in your brain. I want you alive. If this were a heart attack, we would have taken action long ago. I’m taking action now.
The majority of rock stars who kill themselves have a history of depression. When we stop talking about the artist’s demons and approach the illness the way I do—as an illness—we’ll save lives. People with depression need your clarity. We need your help to get out of bed and into a doctor’s office for treatment including medications and ECT. Then, we can use well trained therapists and healers who can help us see the significant difference between depression and the sadness others feel in life.
When the thoughts of demons and a life of hopelessness spring up and they want to write a song about it, they will learn that it’s a sign they’re not well and need help. Once they get that help, they can get out a guitar and write a song and stay alive. But it’s important for us to remember: People with depression need your help. Stop reading our lyrics and poems thinking they are the sign of a tortured artist and start to see the signs that we are sick and need treatment.
Rest in peace, Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell. You were strong, courageous men who had an illness that was simply stronger. There were no demons. You died from depression the same way David Bowie died from cancer. And you were loved.
Julie A. Fast is a leading bipolar disorder specialist and a critically acclaimed national speaker, family coach, and sought-after media source. She blogs at www.juliefast.com and is coauthor of Loving Someone With Bipolar.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.