Last October, Klas Bergling visited the New York offices of suicide prevention organization Vibrant Health. While there, he spoke with experts trained in coaxing people out from the grips of their suicidal thoughts using outreach and, most crucially, a suicide prevention hotline.
For Bergling, it was deeply moving to meet people answering the calls for help that he wished his son, known to the world as Avicii, would have made.
But that was not to be, with Tim Bergling taking his own life on April 20, 2018. The news shocked the world, with four million tweets mentioning “Avicii” posted in the 24 hours after the producer’s death. The moment also served as the spiritual end of the EDM era, a period of musical history upon which the sound and style of Avicii were tremendously influential.
Amidst their mourning, Klas and his wife, Anki Lidèn, decided to take action by launching the Tim Bergling Foundation last summer. The intent would be to champion causes that their son cared about, such as climate change and endangered animals.
But of course, the primary focus would be suicide prevention, with the elder Bergling determined not just to direct money toward organizations working to prevent suicide, but to actually be part of the prevention process. An Avicii tribute concert last December in Stockholm raised $1.7 million for the organization, with other proceeds coming from sources including last June’s posthumous Avicii album, Tim.
At the close of Mental Health Awareness Month, Klas Bergling discusses with Billboard his son’s legacy and what the foundation created in his honor has achieved in its first year.
In getting the foundation in motion, you consulted with many experts in the fields of suicide and suicide prevention. How did that information guide your decision-making in terms of direction?
We very much trust the organizations we work with. They have experts, and these experts are the ones who guide us. What we’ve focused on here is helping two organizations build a 24/7, 365 day a year helpline because it doesn’t exist here in Sweden. It’s very strange. I shouldn’t criticize the Swedish government, but we’re lacking that, really.
It’s very obvious that preventative actions are the most efficient actions you can take, and they are often the actions that are least taken. That’s the way it is, unfortunately. The first organization, Bris, is for children. Then we’re work with an organization called Mind, which serves the age groups above that. We’re focusing on children, young people and young grownups.
Has your understanding of suicide changed through this work?
Of course. I’ve gotten much more informed after Tim. That’s natural. I really didn’t know much about suicide. It’s so complicated and unpredictable regarding what people might potentially be suicidal — that’s almost impossible to see. It’s a very complex problem, but the World Health Organization says almost 800,000 people a year end their lives, and for each of those people, there are 20 more people attempting suicide. So it’s a big global problem, and only 38 countries have preventative national plans to diminish the number of suicides.
I think it goes back to mental illness — that’s where it comes from. That’s something we don’t speak a lot about, the the conversation is growing more and more. The more society opens up to talk about this, I think that it will be a big help.
What are the foundation’s current priorities?
The priorities are to continue with the organizations we have partnered with. We’re also are working with an organization called Choice, lecturing in schools about drugs and alcohol. It’s a very nice organization because they don’t point fingers at students; they just tell them exactly what’s happening in the body and psyche when they take drugs and alcohol.
I visited a couple of these lectures, and they get very engaged. The response from all the young people there was tremendous. We are trying to help them scale it up to meet more young people out there in schools.
Then we also work with Suicide Zero, which works to raise awareness of the issue and get more money into preventative actions. These four are the priority right now.
The Avicii tribute concert last December was very emotional and of course took a lot of planning and energy on your part. What are your strongest memories of that show?
It was such a beautiful evening. I shouldn’t use the word perhaps, but I was really high on the experience because it was such an unbelievably loving atmosphere. You cannot come closer to a religious experience. I’ve never been too religious, but I think this is the way it could be. It was wonderful.
Do you feel Tim’s legacy has in any way evolved in the last year?
In the time after his death, we got such a lovely response. We haven’t gotten anything negative. We opened up a website for fans to communicate about their feelings. I would say, it’s a very solid and positive atmosphere around Tim and for what he stood for. Of course it’s lovely to experience that as a parent after this terrible accident, his suicide.
What did Tim stand for?
He was very direct, very honest; he was funny in a very subtle way. He had a big passion for nature, animals and justice. He didn’t like injustice. He could be very naughty, and I think he was a pain for some people sometimes [laughs]. We really miss him. That’s absolutely so.
You mentioned the fans communicating on the website that was created. Is that still happening with the same frequency as when it launched?
I don’t know exactly. I don’t follow that, to be very honest. I look at it from time to time. I’m not in there every day, but it has been alive. The fans are really present and super loyal.
You helped put together the posthumous Avicii album, Tim, that came out last June. What was your experience of seeing that album go out into the world?
It was a separation, actually. I was part of a small group that worked with the record before it was released, and I had meetings with all of these producers and artists, things I’d never done before. It was so nice. When the record was released, it was really a separation, but of course it was a tremendous feeling. It felt very good.
What are the foundation’s goals for the next year?
We will see the possibility of connecting with international organizations, but beyond that the plan is just to continue what we’ve started and really work it through. We also have some very interesting things we’re working on now that we can discuss down the line.
Is there any indication that lives have been saved through the work you’re doing?
I hope so. We’ve gotten letters from fans saying, “Tim saved my life.” But it’s very hard to say. I really hope the helplines can stop suicides and help give second thoughts to people who are considering suicide.
If you or anyone you know is in distress or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Free confidential support is available 24/7.