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Please Don't Share the 911 Audio From Chester Bennington's 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.

Please, please, don’t share the audio from the 911 call that was made after Chester Bennington’s suicide.

I can’t believe we have to say this, but we do — after being obtained by TMZ, other news sites like InTouch Weekly and Fox News have been spreading around the audio, which features Bennington’s housekeeper and his driver calling 911 to report his suicide.

What is likely one of the most traumatic experiences these individuals have been though, and what occurred after a tragic moment that forever changed Bennington’s family, friends and fans’ lives, is now conveniently embeddable for anyone who wants to listen and repost.

It makes me feel sick.

I’m not going to link to any of the horrible coverage, and I suggest you refrain from giving these publishers your clicks. Sharing the audio of the 911 call does not add anything to Bennington’s story. Commenting on how his housekeeper “wailed in agony” doesn’t help anyone, and it certainly doesn’t respect those close to Bennington or in the suicide community.

It’s a punch to the gut for anyone who’s been affected by suicide, and a big middle finger at the suicide prevention community’s efforts to spread responsible reporting guidelines for suicide.

For many in our community, the reasons we shouldn’t share this audio are probably painfully obvious, but I’ll break it down:

1. Sharing unnecessary details can be re-traumatizing and triggering for both those who have lost someone to suicide and those who have attempted suicide. 

In a piece about how reporting on suicide methods can be harmful for those who’ve lost someone to suicide, Mighty contributor Deborah Greene said it best:

You see for people like me, survivors of suicide loss, the notion of how our loved ones died is hard enough to live with. We may struggle with flashbacks, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of us found our loved ones, some have recreated images in our own minds based upon the details we came to know. But for all of us, it is a pain that is indescribable and one we must live with for the rest of our days.

My father took his own life at the age of 72, just over two years ago. It has taken a great deal of work for me to navigate this path through the traumatic loss. And there is not a day that goes by that I am not haunted by an image of his final moments…

So, when you choose to ignore the recommendations for responsive reporting on suicide loss, and I am confronted with a barrage of headlines on the radio, social media, in the paper or on the television, you also do harm to me. Because those headlines serve as a trigger, one that rips open the very fragile scab that has formed over my loss and exposes every ounce of my pain. The images I’ve worked to place on the back burner of my days come roaring in with a vengeance, the tears begin to flow and I feel assaulted by your salacious details. And long after I turn you off your words linger.

2. It’s a distraction from talking about suicide in a productive way.

The only reason a news site would share this 911 audio is to feed its readers’ morbid curiously and get clicks. That’s it. Period. There’s nothing helpful, nothing redeemable and nothing newsworthy about 911 audio that takes us into the aftermath of a suicide. For publications with a wide audience, letting news like this make its way into the conversation shows valueless reporting, and takes away from all the good work media could be doing in the conversation around suicide and suicide prevention.

Alyse Ruriani, a suicide attempt survivor and advocate, told me:

This information is not necessary. Chester died by suicide. It happened. Why must we keep painting a picture of how it happened, bringing people into this traumatic event? What we need to know and remember from this event is that men of Chester’s age range are at high risk for suicide, that suicide loss survivors are at increased risk of suicide (especially on important dates related to the person they lost), and that help and hope are out there. We can learn from this, remembering Chester’s life legacy and working even harder to prevent suicide in his honor.

3. It’s cruelly invasive and exploits a tragedy many are still processing.

If we are reminded of anything after a celebrity’s suicide, it’s that celebrities are human, just like us. To treat the intimate details of someone’s death as “up for grabs” as an outfit someone wore to an award show shows a complete disrespect for everyone involved — making suicide an “entertainment” issue instead of a public health one.

Dese’Rae L. Stage, founder of Live Through This, said:

There are thousands and thousands of people out there who have had to make that call, or who have received that call — thousands upon thousands of people who have lost someone to suicide — and the only purpose it serves to share this 911 audio is to re-traumatize those folks. This is a violation of privacy, and it’s exploitative. Hearing Bennington’s housekeeper howl in the background of that call doesn’t help fans who are grieving, and it doesn’t give us a better understanding of Chester’s mindset, or even of suicide on the whole. It’s exploitation, pure and simple.

You can be part of this discussion without exposing yourself to something that might trigger you. In fact, I didn’t listen to the 911 audio to write this article because I know it’s not what I can handle today — and that’s OK. Don’t let a headline trap you into listening to something you’re not ready for, and reach out to someone instead. Because what we need right now is not celebrity gossip, but community.

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 text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Rubén G. Herrera

Originally published: July 25, 2017
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