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A MicrophoneThe death of a public figure, especially when it happens at a younger age, is never easy to understand. Just as heartbroken fans mourned the losses of luminaries such as Carrie Fisher and Prince in 2016, the news about the death of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell was accompanied with an equal amount of grief and shock. As authorities investigate and conjecture abounds in the media over the causes, Cornell’s demise brings the subject of mental health and illness into the light. 

Misconceptions About Suicide

While humans are already uncomfortable discussing or thinking about death, the mention of suicide elicits an additional dimension of unease and fear. Beliefs about it differ all over the world, but many Western societies view it to be shameful, likely due to cultural roots in Abrahamic religions that see it as an offense toward their deities. However, many schools of thought strongly advocate against shaming people who harbor suicidal ideation or struggle with depression, anxiety and similar mental health challenges. Everyday Feminism contributor Sian Ferguson steers readers away from blaming or guilt-tripping and suggests offering support, a listening ear, assistance in finding ways to heal or even momentary distraction to help alleviate the individual’s mental and emotional pain. 

Recently, the popular television show “13 Reasons Why” came under fire for what some saw as its promotion of disturbing messages and falsehoods about suicide. Babe writer Serena Smith summed these up in an April 2017 post, describing a shallow rendering of its protagonist Hannah Baker and the conditions that prompted her to take her life. Rather than delve into the hard issues of depression and mental wellness, Smith alleges that the show simply glossed over these issues. Additionally, other critiques have accused it of glamorizing the idea that those around a suicidal person will be sorry when he or she is gone. Furthermore, some have gone as far as to caution those vulnerable to self-harm tendencies against watching the show.

Cornell’s Death Raises More Questions and Dialogues

Chris Cornell struggled with addiction and depression since the age of 12. In 2002, the musician voluntarily checked into a rehab facility and began working on recovery and healing. He spoke openly about these challenges throughout his career, both in interviews and in lyrics he wrote while with the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave as well as for his solo projects. At times, he saw himself as having a foot in a “very dark, lonely, isolated world,” as he told Men’s Health magazine in 2006. 

Cornell’s death in the early morning hours of May 18 seemed sudden and inexplicable to many who knew him. A May 2017 Billboard article revealed that his wife Vicky Cornell insists he did not intentionally take his life. Some experts speculated that the prescription drug Ativan may have affected the singer’s mental state, considering that it has some possible serious side effects such as a depressed mood and suicidal thoughts. In the article’s discussion of Cornell, Dr. Lloyd Sederer, chief medical officer for the New York State Office of Mental Health, disclosed that some individuals have the “capacity to put on masks that hide any or all of those symptoms,” adding that they may be “portraying everything as okay but inside they could be in profound turmoil.” 

No Easy Answers

While family, friends and fans mourn Chris Cornell’s passing, many professionals and advocacy groups seek solutions on how to prevent more suicides. If more good is to be accomplished in the wake of his death, the shame and misconceptions that surround mental health issues must vanish for real progress to be made. On a personal level, educating oneself and being ready to offer support may also aid friends or loved ones who are struggling.



Category: Funeral Society


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