Suicide: Losing the Voice of a Generation
There is a vulnerability that’s brought on when you lose your voice, especially when the onset of the loss is rapid. One moment you’re feeling fine and you go about your day as if everything is normal and then you wake up and your most basic form of expression has been taken from you. Then, there’s the fact that unlike a headache or stuffy nose, you could be nursing yourself back to health for weeks. But what happens when the voice that you’ve lost isn’t your own?
On the morning of July 20th, 2017 a generation lost its voice. Many awoke to the news that Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, died by suicide. Chester had been the lead singer of Linkin Park for nearly two decades and during that time was open about his past struggles with alcohol, drugs, molestation, and depression. He channeled his experiences into the music that the band created and recognized that while not every listener or fan was a reflection of his life experiences, they all found some sort of common ground or comfort in the lyrics that he was performing.
With Bennington and Shinoda at the helm Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory, took the world by storm in late 2000. The album debuted at number 16 on the US Billboard 200 chart after selling 50,000 copies in its first week. Five weeks later the album was certified gold by the RIAA and in 2001 it became the best selling album of the year with 4.8 million copies being sold in the United States alone. The band, music, and lyrics struck a chord with the Millennial generation and created a relationship that wouldn’t soon fade. In fact, to date, the album has sold over 30 million copies worldwide making it the best selling debut album of the 21st century.
I’m not saying that the only fans of Chester Bennington and Linkin Park are Millennials, but statistically they make up a majority of the fanbase. When you couple Bennington’s ability to magnify the listener’s own emotions with the topics that he and the band were approaching, it’s easy to understand how he became the voice of a generation.
After his passing, many fans went online to express their feelings and share their memories of Bennington and his music. For years they’d used Chester’s voice and words as a catalyst for their own expression and healing. Some shared how listening to his music had saved their lives. Others thanked him for being so open about depression and recovery. Many mourned for a man that they believed may have helped save millions, but couldn’t be saved himself.
At the time Chester didn’t know it, but he was vocalizing the demons and darkness of an entire generation, all the while acting as the best friend who sat with us through the night to make sure we were going to be okay. According to population estimates the Millennial generation surpassed the Baby Boomers as the largest living generation sometime in 2015 and within the same year a federal analysis found that suicide rates in the United States had reached the highest levels in 30 years.
According to a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2015, 25 percent of college students have a diagnosable mental illness and are coming to college on medication or in treatment. It doesn’t start there either. According to Psychology Today, “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”
I was 14 years old when I discovered Linkin Park. As a singer and musician, they quickly became one of my most highly regarded influences. As someone who was struggling with depression and suicide, they became my voice and emotional outlet. Over the years I’d struggled with my own demons and my own suicidal thoughts and I can’t tell you of a time that Chester’s voice didn’t help me through it. I, like many others, can be included in above statistics. I fought depression through both middle school and high school. It followed me through college and now in my early thirties, I am taking my place in a new set of startling statistics for middle-aged men like Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, and Robin Williams.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides the following statistics:
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
- Each year 44,193 Americans die by suicide.
- Suicide costs the US $51 Billion annually.
- On average, there are 121 suicides per day.
- Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.
- White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.
- The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular.
The data is clear. Not only are Millennials committing suicide at the highest rates ever, but middle-aged men are doing so at 3.5 times the rate of women and accounting for more than half of the suicides. The time is now to have a long overdue dialogue about men, mental health, and suicide. We should be confronting this epidemic head-on instead of waiting until another life is lost. Suicide can only remain a silent killer so long as we allow it to be.
What to Do If You Need Help
The National Institute of Mental Health recommends the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It also warns that reporting on suicide can lead to so-called suicide contagion, in which exposure to the mention of suicide within a person’s family, peer group or in the media can lead to an increase in suicides.
There are many groups that help people having suicidal thoughts. One, Crisis Text Line, inspired by teenagers’ attachment to texting but open to people of all ages, provides free assistance to anyone who texts “help” to 741-741.
If you prefer to talk on the phone, N.I.H. recommends the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).