It was, by most accounts, a typical July day. Summer had set in, but the dog days were still a few weeks in the distance.
Los Angeles was its usual self. Sunny, warm and bustling, the entertainment capital of the world had just opened for another day of business.
But this day would not be just another one at the office. Just as most people in Los Angeles were settling into work, the music world was dealt a shocking blow: Chester Bennington, the 41-year-old Linkin Park singer who had captivated millions with his ability to juxtapose angsty screams with melodic whispers, was dead, having hanged himself in his bedroom.
It was a dark ending for a man with a dark past. Bennington’s parents split when he was 11. He was repeatedly sexually abused as an adolescent. This led Bennington to explore – and subsequently become addicted to – drugs and alcohol as a means of escape.
However, since pledging to be clean in 2006, it had seemed Bennington had been able to escape his demons. This is what made the man’s death particularly polarizing. The singer had, in many respects, become an example of what a man who had recovered from addiction and depression could do. He was a fitness nut, working out several times a day. He was a clothing model for Porsche Design and Hugo Boss. He even began speaking out in support of those fighting the demons of drug abuse and depression.
And, perhaps most notably, he continued to be the frontman of one of the biggest modern bands in the world. He showed all the signs of overcoming his troubles. His death proved otherwise.
What the drugs and alcohol only partially displayed was that the troubled singer had a problem beyond addiction. Sure, at one point Bennington was addicted to drugs and alcohol, but it was not addiction that would ultimately directly lead to his death. It was depression.
Even in a time when self-expression and emotion are increasingly encouraged, a stigma still surrounds depression. That’s concerning, because depression is the undiagnosed epidemic of America: The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 16 million Americans, or about 6.9 percent of the population, has had "at least one major depressive episode" in a calendar year. Heroin and obesity epidemics have made major headlines – as they should – but depression, which has become just as prevalent, if not even more than heroin and obesity, often gets subconsciously shoved to the back page.
And like any true epidemic, depression has no bounds. Bennington is the perfect example of that. The Linkin Park frontman had seemed to have it all: a successful career, a nice house, and a beautiful wife and family. None of it was enough to help Bennington escape himself.
Depression isn’t like obesity or even addiction, in that it’s often an invisible disease. Except in interviews in which Bennington would retrospectively talk about his bouts with depression, the man was always upbeat and smiling. He was full of energy, seemingly full of life.
But Bennington was suffering – it was just an internal pain. He at one point even admitted, "If I’m getting out of myself and being with other people, like being a dad, being a husband, being a bandmate, being a friend, helping someone out … If I’m out of myself, I’m great. If I’m inside all the time, I’m horrible – I’m a mess …This place right here [points to his head], this skull between my ears, that is a bad neighborhood, and I should not be in there alone. I can’t be in there by myself."
Bennington suffered from depression for most of his life, but it really began in his teen years. The combination of being sexually abused, his parents divorcing, all while enduring bullying at school depressed Bennington. Drugs were the only thing that could (temporarily) help that.
And while Bennington’s case may be a bit extreme, it draws attention to the teenage depression that medical professionals have long deemed a disturbingly large health risk.
Health experts say depression and suicidal distress originate from psychological, environmental and social aspects of a subject’s life. Especially with the popularity of social media making it easier than ever before to compare one’s life to the oftentimes superficially glamorous ones of celebrities or even simply the "popular" kids at school, cases of depression and suicide have not only grown for those between the ages of 15-24, but have become almost encouraged by cult-like groups on social media.
So, the question becomes, what can be done to battle depression? In a word, experts stress awareness. Awareness of depression and suicide is the best approach to curbing this disturbing trend. For though depression is an often invisible disease, the American Psychological Association says there can be signs someone is struggling. These include recent weight loss, change in personality, behavior, sleep patterns and/or eating habits, low self-esteem, talking about death and erratic, uncharacteristic actions.
Bennington displayed many of these characteristics, and though he never explicitly asked for help, he was practically pleading in his actions and words. His death was probably preventable had those around him known the telltale signs of someone who is struggling.
Bennington was 41. He was 21 years removed from being a teenager, and yet it was the demons that found him during those years that he’d never be able to fully overcome. The teenage and young adult periods of a person’s life build the foundation for the rest of their years, and in Bennington’s case, it set the stage for his untimely demise.
And though his death is tragic, it should also serve as a catalyst for better mental health awareness in a world that desperately needs it.
Jack Watson is a senior at Orchard Park High School.