By Aaron James Leong
When I first heard about Chester Bennington’s suicide, I couldn’t help but to feel the loss of an entire generation’s voice – one that helped us all through all those years of teenage angst and tough times. As someone who grew up in an era where manufactured pop music was at its peak, the emergence of screamo vocals in the mainstream music industry brought hope to us all and dared us to dream a little bigger.
While some of us were busy mourning the death of Chester, others may have felt that his suicide overshadowed the suicide of others not in the public eye. That is certainly not the case as people like Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell ignite these types of conversations and their story provides a frame of reference that sheds light on the issues at hand. When you look at the circumstances, Chester had everything going for him externally. He had a successful band with an upcoming album, he had a beautiful family and other projects lined up. Things seemed to be looking up for him – so why did he do it? Despite his success, all we know is whatever it was that he was feeling at the time, it was more powerful than his feeling of obligation towards his family, friends and band members.
We live in a society where we are constantly told that we have to be a certain type of individuals that live certain type of life, and have access to certain types of possessions, and that we are only allowed to feel a certain way but when we are not able to achieve these things, what does that make us? In short, as the world grows more materialistic, the misconception of happiness becomes harder to attain and the people become more alienated from the rest of society and themselves.
In Karl Marx’ theory of alienation, he describes it as the dissatisfaction of people as a consequence of living in a society of stratified social classes. The condition estranges a person from their humanity and they lose the ability to determine life and destiny when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of themselves as the director of their own actions.
So what happens when we’ve spent our entire life believing that discontentment can be alleviated through the acquisition of external phenomena? Ironically, we end up doing more of the same. Indulging in vices that grant momentary relief from the internal suffering which soon results in a form of addiction, whether its substance abuse or what have you; we are all using some external element to make us feel better.
Mental health issues are frequently missed because we think these feelings are “reasonable” given the context. However, if these feelings are prolonged, they may suggest mental illnesses that are not appropriately addressed. We’ve been taught to be silent and to “snap out of it” all our lives but ended up losing the ability to have a collective identity that can commune honestly with one another, to be able to speak openly of our frailties, vulnerabilities, sadness and pain.
Mental health remains a taboo in most parts of the world, especially in Malaysia where these issues do not get enough acceptance, support, sympathy, and sensitivity from people, as well as less accessible support and treatments. Part of this spectrum of mental health issues include illnesses such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc and it is important to address the stigma (of being labelled as mad) that is preventing many from seeking the help and treatment they may need.
One of the most common form of mental illness in the world is unsurprisingly, depression which is now the no. 2 disability in the world and is expected to rank no. 1 by 2020.
Dr. Jessie Foo Xiang Yi, a clinical psychologist and a member of Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology at Sunway Hospital defined depression as an abnormal emotional state that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors in pervasive and chronic ways. Unlike sadness, which diminishes once we’ve gotten over our disappointment, depression does not necessarily require a difficult situation, loss, or a change of circumstance as a trigger, rather it often occurs in the absence of any such triggers.
“Depression often leads a person to think that life is hopeless, painful, purposeless and meaningless which can often lead to suicidal thoughts which leads a person to believe that ending life is the only way out of the emotional pain and the despair that the person is experiencing.”
“These feelings and thoughts consume almost all the energy that the person has left and it becomes very challenging for the person to live a normal life without support and professional assistance. Stigma needs to be addressed and people need to be educated about mental health and its consequences.” She added.
Understanding suicide is a complex matter because the reason varies from different people, especially for someone like Chester Bennington, but what we do know is that suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives and fail to find alternatives to suicide.
The Malaysian government has realized the urgency of the mental health issues in the Malaysian community. As such, a 5-year National Mental Health Strategic Action Plan (NMHSAP) is under development to lay out the best effective measures to tackle the problem, which entails programs and strategies that are to be put in place for the government, non-governmental agencies (NGOs), employers, schools and the public.
However, there is a shortage of competent experts, including clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. We need to start increasing our efforts in educating healthcare providers, educators, employers, as well as the public to detect signs of mental health issues. Then, provide, establishing in-and-out-patient facilities, integrating care into primary health care, and introducing a wide variety of services to address the needs of people with mental illness and their families at different stages of illnesses. Last but not least, we need to improve insurance reimbursement system that acknowledges the need for mental health services.
What we can do as a society is to improve our understanding of living with mental health issues, participate in activities to raise mental health awareness, and be vocal for people with mental health issues. Advocacy in mental health can start at home, in schools as early as kindergarten and the workplace. Treat mental health issues like how we treat physical health issues, by showing understanding and supporting those with mental illness. If you suspect a person is depressed or suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. Be sympathetic, non-judgmental and let them know that their life is important to you. Reassure them that suicidal feelings are temporary and that help is available.
To anyone out there contemplating suicide, bad times will come, and when they do, don’t shake it off but learn to embrace it. Believe in the possibility that things will be better and learn to walk the path yourself but know that there is no shame in asking for and accepting help. Learn to also help others and you will discover ways to help yourself, for it is in giving that you receive. Most importantly, learn to love and be loved in return for love always triumphs over all and therein beauty can be found.
For more information on suicide prevention, head over to The Befrienders.
A very special thanks to Sunway Hospital and Dr. Jessie Foo Xiang Yi for additional research and information.
Image by Chris Parker