GENERAL HOSPITAL - The Emmy-winning daytime drama "General Hospital" airs Monday-Friday (3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. GH18(ABC/Craig Sjodin)LESLIE CHARLESON
Credit: ABC

Before getting into this story, we want to include a gentle trigger warning as it deals with suicide.

When General Hospital’s Leslie Charleson (Monica) talked to Maurice Benard (Sonny) for his State of Mind podcast, the two chatted about everything from her childhood to her time working with the late, beloved Stuart Damon (Alan).

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But there was one topic that tore at our hearts, even as we understood how important it was to bring into the light of day.

“My sister was bipolar,” Charleson shared fairly early in the interview, “and she committed suicide in ’96. I’ve thought about it knowing that we were going to talk, and I haven’t talked about it much.”

The conversation that followed was painful and difficult, with both actors having to pause here and there as their emotions overcame them. As we all know, Benard is also bipolar, so it’s something he understands well.

“It was a tough time because we didn’t really know what it was about at all,” Charleson began. Being bipolar wasn’t understood like it is now, and when the actress’ sister was diagnosed, she just thought the doctors were full of it and moved on. Charleson, however, described the manic highs and depressive lows that are so familiar to Benard.

“She would call all the time and just keep calling,” the actress explained, admitting that her sister would make her so mad sometimes. “That was the highs. And then I wouldn’t see her for a long time.”

“When it happened, I had stopped answering the phone,” she shared. “She was doing one of those keep calling and calling, and I refused. And I had to work that day.”

But when she went home for lunch from the set, she decided to listen to her voice messages, and her sister had left her one that made her pause. There was “something in her tone. She just said she was so tired. And to take care of her cats. And it wasn’t my fault.”

Charleson went back to work but left early because she knew something was very wrong. She then went to her sister’s apartment, got no answer and looked in the window. That was when she saw that her sister had hanged herself at just 43.

It’s a horrible thing to find and an incredibly difficult thing to talk about, and Charleson still clearly feels the loss and the pain of how it happened. Benard stepped in to try and reassure her, though.

GENERAL HOSPITAL, Leslie Charleson, Stuart Damon, Monica, Alan, GH, ABC

Above: Even as Monica dealt with the on-screen drama of issues like her mastectomy and Alan’s drug addiction, Charleson was dealing with her sister’s pain and suicide.

Credit: ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

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“First of all, what you’re saying right now,” he began, “what you’re doing, Leslie, is going to help so many people. And I know. That’s a fact. But I will say, I know a lot of times people feel guilty, or they should’ve done this, done that.”

Without a word, an emotional Charleson acknowledged that heartbreaking truth as she raised her hand and nodded.

“Anybody can do it at any time,” Benard insisted. “Nobody should feel like they could’ve done anything. And I’ll tell you this, during the pandemic, every morning, I was promoting my book, I had this anxiety that was hell on earth. Hell on earth. Didn’t sleep, was shaking, and every morning, I wanted to kill myself.”

“Every morning was bad for four months,” Benard continued, his voice catching. “And I would go outside, and there was a tree, and I would walk around my property asking God, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t do this anymore.’ And I would cry, because I’d see this tree and I’d say, ‘How can I do it?’”

He got through it, he says, because he wanted help. He sought out professional help, he changed his medication and now he’s talking about it and helping others talk about it who may be going through something heartachingly similar.

And that’s what Charleson’s conversation is doing for people too, he told her. It’s helping them feel less alone.

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In the end, Benard thanked Charleson for coming on the show, and she replied that she should be thanking him.

“I haven’t really spoken about this,” the actress told her host, “because it wasn’t something you just bring up in idle conversation.”

These types of conversations are important, and having the knowledge and understanding that we have now is crucial, she noted, “for those people that have a relative. They can be more knowledgeable and be more helpful and know what to do when those signs come up.”

“I wish to God I had known,” she concluded. “But we didn’t know then.”

Our hearts go out to Charleson. If you or anyone you know may be considering suicide, there’s always help out there. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7, every day of the year either online or at 1-800-273-8255.

It can be tough to mourn those we’ve lost, but it can help to remember the happy memories they brought. Before you go, if you feel up to it, you may want to go through our gallery of soap stars we lost in the past year, and remember those who, even if we never met, brought joy into our homes and hearts.