Chris Cornell: A Shocking Tragedy or a Preventable Loss?

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When singer Chris Cornell was found dead by suicide last week, there was a tangible feeling of shock mixed in with the deep sadness of losing someone who has touched the hearts and souls of so many. Suicide is always as much a surprise as it is a tragedy, but even those closest to the frontman of Soundgarden say they are in disbelief that he could choose to take his own life.

In a statement released days after the news, the lawyer representing Cornell’s family said, “The family believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions.”

But, when we look back at Cornell’s life and experiences, some aspects of the recent and heartbreaking death start to make sense – namely, that depression and addiction are harrowing diseases that can lurk in the mind of anyone.

Cornell’s lifelong struggle with addiction

Like many famous rock stars, Cornell has had a long and storied history with drugs and alcohol. “We were all selling drugs by the time we were 12, or doing them,” he told Rolling Stone in 1994.

From that young age, Cornell was constantly surrounded by substance abuse and addiction, to the point where it felt normalized – even after the death of close friends like his roommate Andy Wood. “The thing is, when you pick up the pipe for the first time, you don’t know that that’s your fate,” Cornell told Details in 2012. “The moment isn’t that dramatic.”

Cornell’s struggles with his own addiction continued into the early 2000’s, when he finally made the decision to enter rehab. As he explained to Launch in 2007, “I really had to come to the conclusion, the sort of humbling conclusion, that guess what, I’m no different than anybody else, I’ve got to sort of ask for help — not something I ever did, ever.”

Despite his sobriety from alcohol and illegal drugs, Chris Cornell couldn’t completely escape the presence of substances; although they were legal this time. Cornell was on the prescription anxiety medication Ativan the night of his death, telling his wife he had taken more than prescribed.

Depression hiding in plain site

Addiction and substance abuse are frequently associated with depression, as was the case with Chris Cornell. In an interview with Rock N Roll Experience, the singer described his pre-rehab life as “daily drudgery of depression and either trying to not drink or do drugs or doing them.”

In another interview with Guitar.com, his view on depression and its effect on him take an eerily prescient tone:

“No one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference. But I do feel that depression can be useful. Sometimes it’s just chemical. It doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. And whenever I’ve been in any kind of depression, I’ve over the years tried to not only imagine what it feels like to not be there, but try to remind myself that I could just wake up the next day and it could be gone because that happens, and not to worry about it. And at the same time, when I’m feeling great, I remember the depression and think about the differences in what I’m feeling and why I would feel that way, and not be reactionary one way or the other. You just have to realize that these are patterns of life and you just go through them.”

Could it have been avoided?

Despite entering rehabilitation for addiction, Cornell never indicated he sought treatment for his issues with depression. Instead, he seemed to view it as a fact-of-life that he carried with him. Ultimately, he made the same tragic mistake that many others commit.

Depression is one of the most insidious mental illnesses for its remarkable ability to disguise itself. Unlike a broken limb or the flu, many people living with depression never fully realize it or recognize their own symptoms. The illness slowly grows without ever becoming glaringly obvious, all the while affecting relationships, career opportunities, and overall satisfaction. Rather, a serious mental illness gets dismissed as being “run-of-the-mill”, in Cornell’s words.

The most dangerous part of this is how it allows others to put their guard down. All too often, depression is dismissed as a character trait or “just how they are.” We forget that depression is a real illness and treatment is possible.

There is no such thing as “run-of-the-mill” depression, and regular feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts are serious signs that you should speak to an experienced professional. If you have these feelings or struggle with addiction, give us a call at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and find the right treatment plan for you.

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