We’ve all said it over the past few years: more and more entertainers, musicians and performers are passing away out of the blue. Some have been random illnesses, or preventable issues such as mental health, but all of them sad. As a human/and musician who has been dealing with depression and anxiety for several years, I feel semi-qualified to discuss the topic in my own weird way, and give a few thoughts that mostly add up to a question about why mental health is still taboo for some people when it’s affecting more and more around the world.
The first thought I had last year when those “2016 is an awful year” posts were circulating online was for some reason that it was the same (unfortunately non-scripted) story that had unfolded in Professional Wrestling in the early 2000s. I remember as a kid it seemed like there were tributes left right and centre to people who seemed to be passing long before their time. To list a few: Road Warrior Hawk, The British Bulldog, Crash Holly, Randy Savage, Chris Benoit, Rick Dude, Eddie Guerrero, Mr. Perfect, The Big Boss Man, Paul Bearer, Chris Candido, Yokozuna, Dynamite Kid, Chris Kanyon, Viscera, Bam Bam Bigelow and Mike Awesome all passed away around 2000-2010 alone. Scarily that’s just off the top of my head, and there are many more than that.
Why this has any relevance to mental health and entertainment should be clear in one sense, as these were all entertainers, but beyond that almost all of these people listed died as a direct or indirect result of either drug abuse or mental health. In one way or another, these people had a fatal disregard for their wellbeing in order to gain the approval of a paying audience, and for some even gaining that approval wasn’t enough.
Fortunately, it seems that the tide is turning to some extent, as people such as Scott Hall and Jake Roberts are emerging from the other side of these issues, whilst companies such as WWE are implementing a wellness policy, paying for current and former talent’s rehab programs, but also they are allowing personalities such as legend Kurt Angle and commentator Mauro Ranallo to discuss their personal issues under the company banner. These steps seem to be helping, as this almost-epidemic seems to be slowing, and unsurprisingly addressing the issues in their industry seems to be a huge part of this step in the right direction.
There is that same sort of self-destructiveness in the mainstream entertainment industry, and it costs lives. It may be of no surprise that me writing this have a lot to do with the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington’s passing, but also that of Chris Cornell. Both artists have provided me with a soundtrack to grow up to, and also are responsible for me even wanting to give music a shot. Losing both phenomenal vocalists has highlighted how fragile people can be despite putting on powerhouse performances and oozing personality on-stage. I think a take-away from this is that in an age of digitally polished lives, we should be aware that we don’t have to be constantly perfect like the things we see and read, and also that we need a kinder world.
It’s so easy to sit and look at a Facebook or Instagram page and see the highlight reel as an accurate representation of someone’s life, like they are a brand or something to mimic. We don’t often see the off-days, or when people aren’t well or are unhappy. Michael Stipe once sang “It’s been a bad day, please don’t take our pictures,” and that resonated with me I was writing this. I think that we need to remember that we actually are dealing with our own issues under the veneers we have, and that if I can borrow from Mister Stipe once more “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.”
Linkin Park’s new pop-tinged direction alienated a lot of their older fanbase, and Bennington seemingly was the main person being bombarded with this negativity online. It’s no secret that he had been dealing with a lifetime of issues, but I guess that being harassed like this didn’t help, and it would be great if some people could realise that larger than life people can be affected by these sorts of things, no matter how big and indirect social media may appear.
One positive from the events of the last few days has been the outpouring of kindness on some networks – Reddit’s Linkin Park page, other band pages, news pages, heck even the wrestling page have been discussing his passing, and beyond that offering help and support on a personal level to other users being affected by similar issues. I’ve never seen anything like it, and if Bennington’s legacy could be opening the floodgates and getting people to discuss mental health properly, that would be something positive in and amongst all of this. However, I then take a trip to the comments on a BBC news link on Facebook and the sentiment was essentially “good riddance” or jokes about the whole thing, so I guess time will tell.
One thing I wish could happen is we as a society lifting the stigma around discussing mental health; it is a widespread issue, and much more could be done to save lives or improve other’s lives.
Thank you for reading. I’m going to also link to Reddit user Valios_’s post providing links and numbers to support networks in most countries if anyone needs them.