Nobody will ever really know what prompted rock icon Chris Cornell to make the tragic final decision to end his own life on May 17.
What we do know is that Cornell had just performed a sold-out Soundgarden concert in Detroit. The Daily Mail reported that he posed for photographs after the show and told fans that he would see them at the band’s next scheduled performance in Columbus, Ohio a few days later.
Cornell was found dead later that night in the bathroom of his suite at the MGM Grand Detroit, and medical examiners ruled that he died of suicide by hanging – but as soon as that news came out, his wife, Vicky Karayiannis, took exception to this – stating that side-effects of the prescription drug Ativan might have led him to suicidal thoughts.
Cornell, a recovering addict, was prescribed Ativan to combat his anxiety. His wife said in a statement that when she spoke to him by telephone after the show, she noticed that he was slurring his words. He told her that he may have taken “an extra Ativan or two.”
According to family lawyer Kirk Pasich, the family will wait for toxicology results to see whether Ativan may have impaired Cornell’s judgement before his death.
Karayiannis said that she knew he loved their children and would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life.
We also know that Cornell suffered from bouts of depression and agoraphobia, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “abnormal fear of being helpless in a situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing that is characterized initially often by panic or anticipatory anxiety and finally by the avoidance of open or public places.”
To the outside world, Chris Cornell had it all – a loving wife and children, a music career that helped change the face of rock ‘n’ roll – think Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog – and a reported net worth of $60 million. Does his death prove that money and fame are not buffers against mental illness and that suicide can creep into all lives and socioeconomic situations?
Suicide prevention expert and mental health speaker Jeff Yalden said that mental illness is not prejudiced toward any specific group and can plague anybody, rich or poor.
“For many of these people, work and careers can be a challenge, but mental illness is something that you can learn to live with and function properly – but you have to address it. For Chris Cornell, I don’t know whether he addressed it. I’d be speculating,” he said.
Yalden said that, from watching Cornell’s last performance, he appeared to be a shell.
“He looked like had already checked out. It’s very sad,” he said.
When somebody famous takes his or her life, the issue of suicide is brought into the spotlight – and Yalden has grieved with enough families to know that the issue is worsening.
“I think suicides in general have been on the rise,” he said. “When it’s a rock star or a celebrity, I think the media sensationalizes it – and sometimes when you are a celebrity, your ego can get in the way of seeking help.”
In the case of Cornell, Yalden feels that there should have been people in his life that could have seen the signs.
“Somebody could have worked with him to have balance and boundaries so we wouldn’t be talking about this as we are now. His wife knew that he wasn’t doing well. His bandmates have had to know that he wasn’t himself. The problem is – if you are not looking for this, why would you see it. That’s the problem with all suicides,” he said.
When the signs become obvious, that’s the time for family and friends to take action. But sometimes the loss from suicide is indeed unexpected and seemingly inexplicable.
Yalden said that the symptoms for suicide are very similar to that of depression, and he has a three-point theory about teen suicide:
- I am alone.
- I am a burden and a liability to other people.
- I have the desire for suicide.
Put these symptoms together and you have a lethal or near-lethal attempt to take one’s life.
“Again, I am speculating – but I think the three-point theory is shown in all suicides,” he said. “Obviously, Cornell was alone in his hotel room that night. Maybe he had been on the road a lot and was missing his family. He may have felt alone.”
As far as the burden component, in this case it might have felt like a burden to Cornell to continue to be the frontrunner for so many people – the lynchpin.
“And there were so many people that idolized this guy and thought he was a legend – but the thing is, what good does that do if you don’t think you are that good yourself,” he said. Maybe he reached a point where he didn’t think he was as good as he was.”
Another point of speculation is whether the Ativan caused him to think about self-harm. Side effects of the drug can include confusion, depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation.
There is also a disturbing trend recently reported on by NBC News about the upswing in middle-aged suicides.
“Middle-aged suicide is becoming more and more problematic,” said Yalden. “Many people ignore that they are struggling with mental illness and don’t think they need help. Then they reach the point where – had they asked for help many years ago – they wouldn’t be suicidal. It’s just very sad.”
Yalden said the warning signs for adults are very similar to those of teens.
“Listen. If you have five or more symptoms of depression that last more than two weeks without it going away, that right there means you have red flags that you need to have addressed.”
And it’s OK to ask for help.
“I got a new pair of eyeglasses. I don’t know if the prescription is really working, so I have to go back and get my eyes rechecked. I’m not afraid to ask for that help. This is the same with mental illness. If we address mental illness, we could drastically cut down on our suicides.”
Yalden called Cornell’s suicide very sad and unfortunate.
“The bottom line is that if people saw the signs, they could have intervened and said something. They could have gotten him the help that he needed, even if that meant canceling some shows and taking a break.”
To discover more about Jeff, visit: www.jeffyalden.com.
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