On Suicide

When I was 15 years old, Kurt Cobain killed himself.  His death was the first time I experienced suicide and the first time I experienced the death of an idol.  I wasn’t a huge Nirvana fan, but being a teenage musician in the early 90’s, it was impossible to ignore Nirvana and I did appreciate their work.  Still, when Kurt died, it rocked the world in a way their music did not.  I remember that most of my friends were essentially in mourning in the days that followed.

As the years passed, I watched as several other musical idols succumbed to suicide or substance use.  I watched as Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon (whose self-titled debut album is absolutely incredible), Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, and more recently, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (and possibly the best vocalist of his generation, in my opinion) all succumbed to their mental health issues.  And now we’ve lost another artist, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park (and, briefly, Stone Temple Pilots).  Like 1995, I’m not a big fan of Linkin Park, but I remember being struck by how unique their debut album sounded, and I appreciated some of their standout tracks.  And now, Chester Bennington has also committed suicide…on Chris Cornell’s birthday.

Which brings me to my next point.  So-called “copycat suicides” are fairly common.  It is not uncommon for people, especially young people, to copy the suicide of someone they look up to: a friend, acquaintance, pop-culture icon, etc.  In fact, exposure to the suicide of another person (friend, family member, or anyone you look up to, even someone you don’t actually know in real life) is a risk factor for suicide.

I’ve talked to several artists who have reported that they look up to their idols because of the way they’ve successfully dealt with their mental health issues through their art.  Now imagine how that person feels when the idolized artist kills themselves.  They often feel hopeless, that if this person who they thought was dealing so well with their issues through their art couldn’t overcome it, how can they?   Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell were reportedly friends.  Chester was the right age to look up to Chris as an example, and both spoke openly several times about his own struggles with depression.  Chester’s choice of date and method of suicide (hanging, the same as Cornell) are not a coincidence.  He very likely painfully felt the loss of a friend and idol, and followed his lead.  And now the world has lost another great artist.

With that in mind, if you, or a loved one or friend, are feeling down, depressed, hopeless, or otherwise suffering, please seek help.  If you are thinking about taking your own life, call 911 and go to the hospital.  This is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY, just like a heart attack or stroke.

In the Charlottesville area, we have several other resources available:

  • Region Ten’s 24 hour crisis line (434-972-1800)
  • Madison House Help Line for UVA students (434-295-TALK)
  • National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255)

I’ll add that people struggling with depression often feel hopeless, that things can’t get better.  If this describes you or a loved one, please seek treatment.  Treatment is effective and will almost always help once you find the right treatment(s).  If you’ve tried a few things, talk to your doctor and trying something different.  See a psychiatrist, if you haven’t.  Try therapy if you haven’t.  If you’ve tried one type of therapy and didn’t find it helpful, then try a different style of therapy (there are dozens or even hundreds of types of therapy).  There is a plethora of treatments available to modern mental health, DO NOT GIVE UP.

Check out the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, and learn some of the risk factors for suicide: past suicide attempts, substance use, having guns at home, stressful life events (job loss, divorce, etc), family history of suicide, and exposure to another person’s suicide (which includes cultural idols, but also real life friends, family, and even acquaintances.

Finally, I can’t leave without mentioning some of the incorrect things I’ve seen said about suicide and mental illness on social media.  I’ve seen several people saying that people who kill themselves are weak and should’ve just “manned up” and “pulled themselves out of it.”  This is like telling an asthmatic to “just breathe” during an asthma attack.  Also, hearkening back to an earlier post about terminology, I would encourage people to learn the correct terminology for the various types of depression.  There is no such thing as a medical diagnosis of “depression.”  What people lump under “depression” is actually several totally different conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood, Bipolar Depression, Dysthymia, Depression due to a Medical Condition, Depression due to a Substance, and several others.  Each of these is separate condition with it’s own etiology and treatment.  We do patients and ourselves a disservice when we simplify this down to “depression.”

Remember, if you’re suffering, Seek Help.  Don’t Give Up.  

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