June 2007 in a field in Donnington a very depressed 17-year-old version of myself stood on the third row of a packed audience of thousands and sang back the lyrics to the revered band Linkin Park, fronted by Chester Bennington. In those moments of euphoria it felt like being able to give thanks to and celebrate with the band whose music had made me realise I was not alone in my thoughts of depression and suicide.
Depression and mental health stigma has a way of making you feel like you are fighting your battles alone. I have often wondered how it must feel to have the experience of literally thousands of people singing your lyrics back to you. I have wondered how it must feel to know that you are loved and admired by that many people and to know your heartache and sharing did someone else a kindness by letting them know they are not alone. I wondered how much it could fill up their souls to know how many people had been positively effected by their music.
The most gutting thing about this is of course that the recent suicide of Chester Bennington is not the first and will not be the last of those who have inspired and consoled others through their art-form only for their own mental health to overwhelm them. No matter whether you were a fan of their music or not, your life will no doubt have been impacted by someone who has suffered from a mental health issue. One in four people will be a sufferer from mental health issues in their lifetime.
Depression can make you feel alone even when you are loved and admired by millions of people. Yet, still there are those who would argue or propose that depression and other issues of mental health are not a legitimate health issue and should not be treated as such. Mental health is one of the most underfunded and under-resourced areas of our national health service in the UK with many people who seek help on waiting lists for counselling services for between six months and a year, with many countries outside of the UK reporting similar timeframes.
There is a concerning lack of education from schools, companies and government that sweeps these issues firmly under the rug only to result in sufferers being walked over further by poor policy and misinformation. Vital signs of deteriorating mental health are often missed resulting in further harm or repercussions. Further to this there is a gross misconception that those we perceive as successful are not allowed to be depressed. Our heroes must be happy, perfect and thankful for everything they have that the average person does not. In reality, this requirement for 'perfection' in all our heroes in neither achievable nor healthy.
My heroes and those I look up to are those who have endured hardships, those who have been honest about failure, addiction, heartbreaks, mental health and mental breaks. The truth is for those battling with mental health issues is simple - life is not linear. Recovery is not always easy or simple, nor is it always complex. For some people suffering from mental health issues triumph is creating art that resonates with millions across the world, some days a success story is making it out of bed or brushing your teeth. Ordinary people are fighting, winning and sometimes losing those daily battles. It is about time we stop brushing mental health under the carpet and recognise it for what it is - normal. Mental health needs to be both normalised as a societal issue that must be addressed, funded and understood and also recognised as something that can affect anyone.
So this is a thank you to Chester Bennington, Linkin Park and all those like them who are willing to share the honest, open, beautiful and ugly truth about depression or mental health in a way that inspires people to talk, share, sing or find some consolation in others. Mainly this is in recognition of all those ordinary people (one in four of us), no matter who you are, who have fought, are fighting or will battle with mental health in their lifetime.
We are conditioned to believe we are alone in our battles. We are not.
We are conditioned to believe we are 'less than' because of our struggles. We are not.
One day, the world will change but for now I hope that is enough to know that you are not alone in your battles.
And Chester Bennington - you are still my hero. For singing about the battles we share in our apparent solitude when the rest of society was content with silence.