Described by friends and family as happy, loving and ambitious just days before his death, Chris Cornell’s suicide has shocked people around the world. We take a closer look at the causes of this tragedy and what it says about addiction and mental health.
Tears were shed around the world on May 18, 2017 when rock legend Chris Cornell was pronounced dead. Considered one of the greatest voices in rock music, the Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman surprised family, friends and fans alike when he committed suicide just after midnight.
It was only hours after Cornell played a concert with his recently reunited band mates of Soundgarden at Detroit’s Fox Theatre that he was found by his bodyguard in his hotel room. Despite having struggled with addiction and depression throughout his life, his wife Vicky was shocked to hear the news, telling the media that her husband was in a good place and she had no reason to believe he would have killed himself.
Cornell’s Friends and Family: ‘There Were no Warning Signs’
According to the singer’s wife, the two of them were planning a family holiday together in the near future that would include Cornell’s son Christopher and daughter Toni. ‘I know that he loved our children and he would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life,’ Vicky Cornell said.
Rolling Stone spoke to several musicians who had seen Cornell in the last months leading up to his death, and all of them said relatively the same thing – that he seemed happy, he was looking forward to new and exciting music endeavors, and that they never would have thought that he was on the road to suicide.
In an official statement following the death, Vicky Cornell said:
‘When we spoke after the show, I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different. When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him.’
It was then that his bodyguard kicked down his door and found that he was too late.
The Singer’s Struggle with Mental Health
In an interview in 2006, Cornell recounted his bout of depression after splitting with his band Soundgarden in 1997. He admitted that he was shutting down inside, but found a way to bring himself back up again. ‘I eventually found that the only way out of that was to change virtually everything in my life. That was a very frightening thing to do,’ Cornell told the seattle pi.
In the early 2000s, Cornell attended rehab for his alcohol and substance abuse. Although apprehensive about going, he got clean – and in retrospect, was thankful for his experience.
Now, as the world says goodbye to a singer who changed the sound of rock music forever, his struggle with anxiety has come into the spotlight. Anxiety is common in recovering addicts as they try to find their place in a world they used to dilute with drugs and alcohol. Chris Cornell had a prescription for Ativan (known generically as lorazepam), a type of benzodiazepine frequently prescribed for anxiety.
Side effects of Ativan include unusual changes in mood or behaviour as well as thoughts of suicide or hurting oneself.
The Dangers of Prescription Drugs
Prescription drug addiction has been taking millions of lives globally in recent decades, and while it can’t be confirmed if taking those extra Ativan pills was to blame for Cornell’s suicide, it can’t be ruled out. The toxicology report showed that Cornell’s blood contained a mixture of substances such as pseudoephedrine, butalbital and 200 mg/mL of lorazepam which is considered much higher than the average dose of 30-50 ng/mL. However, officially, the death can only be tied to the drug when it hits levels of 300 ng/mL.
In response to the toxicology report, wife Vicky still felt that something went terribly wrong:
‘Many of us who know Chris well noticed that he wasn’t himself during his final hours and that something was very off. We have learned from this report that several substances were found in his system. After so many years of sobriety, this moment of terrible judgment seems to have completely impaired and altered his state of mind.’
What We Can Learn from Chris Cornell’s Tragic Death
1. Middle-aged male suicide rates are on the rise.
The suicide rate in males in their 40s and 50s is on the rise. Recent research shows that males are more likely to develop stress-related depression, which may be a contributing factor.
2. Just because pills are prescribed by your doctor doesn’t make them safe.
When you’re prescribed medication by a doctor, it’s vitally important to take only the prescribed dosage. Many pharmaceutical drugs come with a long list of scary side effects. Stay informed and know what you’re taking.
3. Mental health issues never fully go away.
Just as addicts are forever in recovery, those suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health disorders must always keep working at maintaining their mental wellness. Build a support team, and reach out when you need help.
4. No one is safe from mental health or addiction issues.
‘There is no type of person, vocation, there is no categorization of the person, man or woman that you can be, that is going to be immune to a lot of these things: substance abuse, mental illness, behavioural problems. It can affect anybody and everybody and no one’s immune to it, even the ones that you would think should have more help and support.’ – Chris Cornell
Concerned? Get Professional Help, Right Away.
Over 90 per cent of all people who commit suicide have a mental illness or suffer from addiction. As well, more than 50 per cent of those with a drug addiction are believed to have a co-occurring mental illness. Mental health, addiction and suicide are intricately intertwined, which is why it’s so important to seek help at first sign.
The Cabin Sydney has an incredibly effective programme that treats co-occurring disorders simultaneously to achieve long-term. Contact us today for a consultation.