Although many people have responded with empathy to the death of Chester Bennington, the front man of Linkin Park who recently died by suicide, I have also seen many comments in outrage. People – including celebrities close to him – have branded him as selfish and a coward. As a qualified Therapist, I felt compelled to say something, and explain that those comments are not only unhelpful to people feeling suicidal, but scientifically inaccurate.
When a person contemplates taking their own life, the brain goes into fight or flight. This is a natural, and automatic reaction to fear, and the brain sensing imminent danger. When the brain is in fight or flight, the part of the brain that deals with reasoning, logic and rational thought processing literally switches off. This means logical thoughts about how much people will miss them, how they will cope without them and so on, go ‘out the window’.
Unless there is a safety plan in place that they can implement in time, or someone can intervene quickly enough to help them exit that “mode”, they are at the mercy of coping mechanisms which historically probably haven’t worked for them, or engaging in dangerous activity they feel will help them escape the pain. It is ironic, that the very response designed to protect people can be indirectly responsible for their death, but nevertheless to suggest someone can process information on a rational level at the point they are contemplating suicide is not correct.
I would add it’s difficult when people label suicide as selfish, for people to then consider asking for help if they think they will be judged. Please think carefully about the environment you create for your friends and family when you say those things.
Of course, it is much more complicated than the explanation I’ve given. But as Chester Bennington suggested in an interview before he died, once you are inside your own mind it can be very difficult to get out.
I wholeheartedly recommend Mental Health First Aid which organisations like Mind BLMK offer. This helps people have some confidence in knowing what to say when someone is suicidal – it literally can save lives.
Thank you for reading.
If you or someone you know is struggling, there is a guide on the Heads Together website about having difficult conversations. https://www.headstogether.org.uk/tipsfortalking/
If you have been feeling suicidal, organisations like http://Samaritans.org can help 24/7. Please talk to someone about help available in your area and how to create a plan to keep you safe.
If you are mourning the death of someone who has died by suicide organisations in the UK like Papyrus https://www.papyrus-uk.org/ (Young Suicide) and Cruse Bereavement Care http://Cruse.org.uk can provide information and support.
Copyright Delphi Ellis