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Chester Bennington's Autopsy Proves We Can't Forget About Addiction When Discussing Suicide

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

This week, TMZ, known for reporting on celebrity suicides in unnecessary graphic detail, published Chester Bennington’s autopsy report in full, including even more intimate information about the Linkin Park singer’s suicide in their latest coverage.

Originally, their coverage falsely reported that Bennington was found with alcohol and ecstasy in his system when he died back in July. But, after those close to Bennington spoke out, the report was adjusted to read that although one blood test tested “presumptive positive” for MDMA (ecstasy), two subsequent tests did not detect the drug, concluding Chester was not under the influence of drugs when he died.

Although most of the details included are only good for filling readers’ morbid curiously, there is some information about Bennington’s autopsy worth noting, if only to start a larger and much-needed conversation about addiction and suicide.

We talk a lot about mental illness when a celebrity dies by suicide. Bennington, whose music resonated with many who struggled with their own mental health, was open about his history of both depression and addiction. Although according to reports, Bennington had been sober for six months before his death, the autopsy obtained by TMZ did show there was alcohol and ecstasy in his system when he died back in July.


We can’t be with Bennington in his final moments to know whether or not a potential relapse led to his suicide attempt — or if he took the drugs in preparation for ending his own life — but this unanswered question actually speaks to the often messy way addiction and mental illness are intertwined, and how you can’t help one without another.

This separation of addiction and mental illness is one thing — among many — that bothers Gary Mendell, CEO and Founder of Shatterproof, about how we treat mental illness. Shatterproof is a national nonprofit that fights addiction stigma. Mendell lost his son who battled addiction to suicide when he was 25.

Drug abuse and mental illness is a vicious cycle. Someone perhaps becomes addicted to drugs in the process of self-medicating a mental illness, and then the addiction makes it impossible to help the mental health systems that started the addiction in the first place.

most of the treatment program worked today, let’s tackle the addiction and then we’ll worry about the mental health issues.”

And this affects how we get help: Although to 40 percent of people seeking treatment for substance dependence report a history of suicide attempt, according to AddictionCenter, many addiction treatment programs will not accept clients with recent suicidal behavior.


Individual who attempt and die by suicide have higher ratings of personality traits such as aggression and impulsivity compared to non-attempters. Sher and colleagues demonstrated that depressed subjects with alcoholism had higher suicidal ideation, lifetime aggression, and impulsivity scores than non-alcoholic depressed patients

Similar things that drive people to addiction may drive them to suicide…


If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.


Image via Wikimedia Commons/Stefan Brending

Originally published: April 19, 2020
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