Just a week before American alt-rockers Linkin Park were to embark on a 29-date North American tour, the tragic news spread like wildfire: Chester Bennington – the band’s 41-year-old lead singer and whom Rolling Stone called “an honest voice of pain and anger for a generation” – was found dead of suicide by hanging in his California home on July 20. Barely two months before, Bennington sang a poignant rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah,” at the memorial service for his close friend Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who also took his own life by hanging. Motivational speaker and author Jeff Yalden is also a suicide prevention expert. He has grieved with enough families to know that the issue is worsening. He spoke at length about Chris Cornell in a previous blog post, and sadly, in this episode of The BOOM Podcast, he spoke from the heart about Chad Bennington and suicide. He said that speaking about suicide is never easy, and he always wants to be very careful about his words. “I don’t want to add more pain, and I don’t want to sensationalize anything,” he said, adding that he wanted to send his thoughts and prayers and pay incredible respect to Bennington’s ex-wives – the mothers of his six children. He also said that he is very concerned about Bennington’s millions of fans and what the possible fallout could be. This message is about mental health, as it was in the post about Chris Cornell. Many people think they can deal with their issues by throwing themselves into their work – compartmentalizing emotions and bottling things up along the way – dealing with these issues by not dealing with them. Yalden is a huge advocate of mental health and cognitive behavioral therapy. “It’s about being honest with yourself – with the man in the mirror – talking to your doctor, getting on the right prescription and just being your own best advocate,” he said. But Yalden also believes that a struggling person’s close network of friends and family need to support and encourage them as well. In many cases, the person dealing with mental health issues is not right in their thinking enough to be able to make the appropriate decisions. It is always a better plan for a friend or family member to make sure that this person gets professional help. “If you are a spouse, coach or friend, you have an incredible responsibility to go to the mental health professionals – to call 911 – to call the police. Sometimes you need to think clearly for this person.” Bennington was an amazing talent, to be sure, and he dove into his career like many people do, but Yalden warned that not dealing with core issues and instead putting yourself out there for your audience can be a slippery slope. “All of a sudden, it’s the applause – it’s the music – it’s the putting those emotions into your work that kind of releases you from having to deal with real life. When you are a celebrity, a professional athlete, an actor, a rock star – all that fame and all of that money kind of fulfills your heart. In a way, I kind of understand. I am not a celebrity like any of these guys by all means. I have been a motivational speaker for 25 years. You get standing ovations, you get applause, you get hugs – ‘sign this, Jeff. Sign that’ – and people love you.” But the audience isn’t there when you go home. “You’ve got to put the kids to bed, mow the lawn – take out the trash. You have to feed the dogs, empty the dishwasher, vacuum the carpet – so the bottom line is this: You are getting all of this applause. You are put on a pedestal. Then you go home and you have to deal with life, and you begin to have this big void.” Yalden said many celebrities – and for that matter many other people – look to fill this void with gratuitous sex, drinking and doing drugs. The casualties from these behaviors continue to grow daily. “You can look at many of the celebrities whose lives ended because they were not taking care of what’s important – and they all have one thing in common: They weren’t taking care of themselves first,” he said. Yalden himself struggles with mental illness, and is diagnosed with major depression, bipolar II disorder and PTSD. He talked about behavioral and situational clues that were red flags long before Bennington made what Yalden calls the forever decision. The debut of Hybrid Theory in 2000 put Linkin Park on the map, and was the start that brought in millions of fans that adored Chester Bennington. “If you listen to the album and you know a little bit about them, Chester Bennington helped many young people with their struggles – with being alienated, bullied – or struggles with mental illness. In a way, he gave people permission to understand and so say to themselves, ‘it’s OK,’ because he talked about his own struggles. This resonated with his audience because ‘he gets it. He understands because he is going through it.” Yalden said he is really concerned about the aftermath. “As great of a man as Chester Bennington was to his millions of adoring fans and how he helped so many people with their struggles with mental health – I am sad that he didn’t see the responsibility that he had to the millions of people. He should have taken care of himself while taking care of those fans. From a mental health standpoint, that breaks my heart. So many people looked up to him – so many people struggling mental illness. They needed someone to go to. And millions of people are afraid to go to a mental health professional. They are afraid to go to the doctor, so they seek the answers and they seek the respect from someone that they trusted. This was Chester Bennington – but many knew that he was a man who struggled with mental illness himself, and people should have been somewhat concerned for him.” For more information about Jeff Yalden, click HERE.
Nobody will ever really know what prompted rock icon Chris Cornell to make the tragic final decision to end his own life on May 17. What we do know is that Cornell had just performed a sold-out Soundgarden concert in Detroit. The Daily Mail reported that he posed for photographs after the show and told fans that he would see them at the band’s next scheduled performance in Columbus, Ohio a few days later. Cornell was found dead later that night in the bathroom of his suite at the MGM Grand Detroit, and medical examiners ruled that he died of suicide by hanging – but as soon as that news came out, his wife, Vicky Karayiannis, took exception to this – stating that side-effects of the prescription drug Ativan might have led him to suicidal thoughts. Cornell, a recovering addict, was prescribed Ativan to combat his anxiety. His wife said in a statement that when she spoke to him by telephone after the show, she noticed that he was slurring his words. He told her that he may have taken “an extra Ativan or two.” According to family lawyer Kirk Pasich, the family will wait for toxicology results to see whether Ativan may have impaired Cornell’s judgement before his death. Karayiannis said that she knew he loved their children and would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life. We also know that Cornell suffered from bouts of depression and agoraphobia, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “abnormal fear of being helpless in a situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing that is characterized initially often by panic or anticipatory anxiety and finally by the avoidance of open or public places.” To the outside world, Chris Cornell had it all – a loving wife and children, a music career that helped change the face of rock ‘n’ roll – think Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog – and a reported net worth of $60 million. Does his death prove that money and fame are not buffers against mental illness and that suicide can creep into all lives and socioeconomic situations? Suicide prevention expert and mental health speaker Jeff Yalden said that mental illness is not prejudiced toward any specific group and can plague anybody, rich or poor. “For many of these people, work and careers can be a challenge, but mental illness is something that you can learn to live with and function properly – but you have to address it. For Chris Cornell, I don’t know whether he addressed it. I’d be speculating,” he said. Yalden said that, from watching Cornell’s last performance, he appeared to be a shell. “He looked like had already checked out. It’s very sad,” he said. When somebody famous takes his or her life, the issue of suicide is brought into the spotlight – and Yalden has grieved with enough families to know that the issue is worsening. “I think suicides in general have been on the rise,” he said. “When it’s a rock star or a celebrity, I think the media sensationalizes it – and sometimes when you are a celebrity, your ego can get in the way of seeking help.” In the case of Cornell, Yalden feels that there should have been people in his life that could have seen the signs. “Somebody could have worked with him to have balance and boundaries so we wouldn’t be talking about this as we are now. His wife knew that he wasn’t doing well. His bandmates have had to know that he wasn’t himself. The problem is – if you are not looking for this, why would you see it. That’s the problem with all suicides,” he said. When the signs become obvious, that’s the time for family and friends to take action. But sometimes the loss from suicide is indeed unexpected and seemingly inexplicable. Yalden said that the symptoms for suicide are very similar to that of depression, and he has a three-point theory about teen suicide:
- I am alone.
- I am a burden and a liability to other people.
- I have the desire for suicide.