When suicide happens, it of course unleashes unfathomable grief.
That anguish was multiplied Thursday when the public learned that Chester Bennington, the frontman for Linkin Park, not only killed himself but died on what would’ve been Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
That Bennington would also die by suicide on Cornell’s birthday makes sense to prevention experts who know that momentous occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays can trigger intense emotions for people who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. Those feelings can also increase a survivor’s suicide risk, particularly when they’ve previously experienced their own bouts of depression or suicidal thoughts and behavior. Bennington had spoken openly about struggling with addiction, depression, and suicidal feelings.
“Anniversaries bring up the fact that the person isn’t with us anymore,” says Julie Cerel, president of the American Association of Suicidology. “It becomes a time of risk for people who are hopeless and hurting.”
While there’s been no public statement indicating that Bennington knew the day’s significance and attempted suicide as a result, he did face an elevated risk given his friendship with Cornell.
Cerel says that planning in advance of a birthday, anniversary, holiday, or other special occasion may help people who’ve experienced a suicide loss. A family, for example, may choose to spend the first Christmas after a loss on vacation instead of at home. Some might remember their loved one’s birthday by making a cake and having a bittersweet celebration of their life. Preparing for the flood of emotions, and that person’s absence, can make what is an awful day feel more manageable.
For those who feel extreme despair and begin to consider suicide for themselves, Cerel recommends urgently reaching out for help. That can include contacting crisis phone and text lines and survivor support services like the online group Survivors Of Loved Ones to Suicide, Inc.
Amelia Lehto, a board member of AAS and vice president of Six Feet Over, a suicide prevention group based in Michigan, says that Bennington’s fans may now be grappling with their own complicated feelings over his loss — and the emotions it stirs about their own battles with suicide, substance use, or depression.
“The loss of Chester Bennington is touching thousands, if not millions, of fans across the world and that pain is real,” she says.
Lehto regularly attends music festivals, events, and concerts in Michigan through a Six Feet Over program called Suck It! Suicide. The goal is to reach people in the music and arts scene who may not connect with typical suicide prevention messaging and its emphasis on talking formally about one’s emotions.
“A lot of people in this community, they connect with each other, they connect with their peers,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be sitting down in a therapist’s office. Just talk about the here and now. Say you’re having a hard day and hash it out.”
Lehto says that in the wake of a suicide death like Bennington’s, having those casual conversations can make a big difference. So can reaching out for more urgent help if the risk of suicide feels imminent.
But she also wants fans of both Bennington and Cornell to know that hope is a meaningful emotion, even on a day so solemn as this one.
“My message would be that you matter,” says Lehto. “No matter your hardships, no matter how your heroes may have died, your life is important.”
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.