The first thing I remember reading on the news crawl on May 18th was that Chris Cornell died in Detroit.
I had to watch the whole cycle again because I couldn’t believe it.
In addition to his family, friends, and his music, Chris Cornell left us with some important reminders about suicide prevention.
Responsible reporting on suicide probably helps prevent it.
Experts have come to some consensus on safe reporting on suicide. One recommendation is that the media not report on suicide, except in the case of public figures. There is reason to believe these recommendations will save lives.
However, the guidelines have some flaws. First, if we only report on public figures, we may inadvertently glorify suicide. In addition, there is a tendency to assume suicide is likely the cause of death for public figures who die unexpectedly. Finally, there is a danger in being too careful about reporting and too quick to launch into lectures on risk factors and warning signs. There must be time to connect with others to mourn, to reflect, and to begin learning from the loss about how to prevent the next one.
In the era of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, it is important for us to be conscious of our own and our kids’ media exposure. We should be careful about how much we consume, how it affects our beliefs, and the effects it has on our moods.
Middle-aged men are at greater risk for suicide.
At 52, Chris Cornell was at high risk. Suicides among men between 45- and 64-years-old increased 43% between 1999 and 2014. White men accounted for 83% of male suicide deaths in 2014.
Theories for the increased risk in men vary. In general, guys seem less likely to talk about out-of-control negative thoughts and emotions, which are associated with suicidal behaviors. They also tend to use more lethal means in their attempts. In addition, white men were hit especially hard by recent economic disruptions. The associated loss of income and status are theoretically related to increases in suicide attempts.
Whether they are at-risk or not, men need to maintain connections to their families, to sources of pride and purpose, and to friends, especially those that will listen to them talk about difficult things.
Substance use – including off-label use of prescription medications – may increase risk of suicide.
Chris Cornell’s widow believes that his death may have been caused by improper use of the anti-anxiety drug Ativan (lorazepam). She stated that she spoke to him after his show that night and noticed he was slurring his words and that he said something about taking an extra Ativan or two.
We know that intoxication from drugs like alcohol and opiates contribute to suicide. There is no way to know what motivated Chris Cornell to take more Ativan than he was prescribed, nor is there any way to believe it to be the sole reason for his death. However, taking more than the prescribed dose of any medication is dangerous.
It’s vital to take only those medications that are prescribed for you, and only as directed by your physician. Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
Fame and fortune do not protect you from suicide.
People are often shocked – partly because of our inhibitions about reporting on suicide and because of social media – when celebrities die by their own hand. We tend to believe that those who are famous are healthier, happier, and generally better off than those who are not. It turns out this is almost never true. Fame is not a protective factor. Neither is wealth.
Nothing immunizes a person against suicide. Though the numbers may indicate greater risk for some, we are all at risk: old or young, rich or poor, famous or unknown.
Suicide is a complex – but preventable – behavior.
We are bad at predicting suicide. Through many years of research, we thought we’d identified things that put people at greater risk. If you look at the numbers, though, they tell a different story. There are things that appear to put a person at greater risk – age, gender, and depression, for example – but these tell us very little. Most people between 45 and 64 don’t die by suicide. Most men do not make suicide attempts. Most people who are depressed do not attempt or die by suicide.
Suicide is infrequent, making it hard to study in any meaningful way. This is not to say we have given up. New methods for researching and preventing suicides are designed every day.
And we know that there are things that seem to protect us against suicide attempts:
Maintaining connections to people who make your life worth living decreases your chances of suicide,
Doing something you find personally meaningful decreases your chances of suicide, and
Finding hope decreases your chances of suicide.
Finally, reaching out to people you know who may be at risk decreases their chances of suicide.
It’s clear that Chris Cornell understood the importance of connection. The chorus to “Like a Stone” proves that:
In your house I long to be;
Room by room patiently,
I’ll wait for you there, like a stone.
I’ll wait for you there, alone.
If you or anyone you know is having a difficult time, get some help. For men who are having a particularly hard time, tell them to try Man Therapy.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always reachable at 1-800-273-8255 and you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “Talk” to 741-741.
Shane G. Owens, Ph.D., ABPP is an authority on college mental health practice and policy, including college readiness and behavioral risk management. As a college administrator and in private practice, he works primarily with adolescents and emerging adults. He is a board-certified behavioral and cognitive psychologist.
Follow Dr. Owens on Twitter: @drshaneowens
For more helpful information, visit: drshaneowens.com