With the recent apparent suicide of Chris Cornell, the phenomenal lead vocalist of the bands Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog, another exceptional talent was taken from us far too soon. Though his wife disputes the coroner’s finding that Cornell intentionally took his own life, the fact is that the singer struggled with depression and addiction for most of his life.
Though tragic, it seems appropriate that Cornell’s passing occurred during National Mental Health Awareness Month. There is, of course, no silver lining to his death. His wife and children have lost a husband and father. His fans have lost a source of breathtaking musical artistry. But the timing of Cornell’s passing does bring much needed attention to a problem millions of Americans struggle with: mental illness.
Despite affecting approximately 1 out of 5 Americans, mental illness is still stigmatized in 2017. For several reasons, people often suffer in silence as they deal with problems such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. They may feel hesitant to reveal the nature of their illness to people who may not accept that they are suffering from a legitimate illness. They may not wish to inform potential employers (who cannot ask about health issues prior to making an offer of employment, but who can legally do so while making an offer of employment) for fear of jeopardizing their chances of securing a job. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, insurers could decline coverage to people previously diagnosed with mental illnesses, so many sufferers simply did not seek help.
People living with a mental illness may fear being bullied or ostracized for “being different” from their peers. They often feel compelled to hide their condition from others in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Sadly, in many families, relatives with mental illness are not discussed openly with outsiders for fear of bringing shame to the family name.
Recently, I went public with my long-time struggle with alcohol addiction. Let me assure you; addiction is a disease, not a choice. It can even be a genetic trait, just like some cancers. In fact, my father also suffers from addiction, and I am proud to report that he has been sober for exactly three days longer than I have. Maintaining sobriety is not any easier for him than it is for me, but having each other to lean on helps us both.
Addiction is not the only disorder to affect members of my family. I am closely related to people who have been diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. My maternal grandfather, possibly suffering from undiagnosed PTSD following the horrors he witnessed in World War II, took his own life a few years before I came into this world and had the chance to meet him.
Addiction is not the only disorder that affects me. Although I have not talked to my doctor about my mental health (yet), I am reasonably certain that I do suffer from anxiety and possibly depression, in addition to addiction. Bethany thinks that I may exhibit obsessive-compulsive tendencies as well, based, for example, on the many quirks and rituals I have developed over the years.
As a writer, musician, and creator of musical instruments, I suppose I could fairly be labeled as an artistic type of person. It seems that artistic types tend to struggle with mental illness, if not more frequently, then at least more publicly than other people. No, there are no silver linings to Chris Cornell’s death, or to the untimely passing of so many other great artists, but in the wake of these tragedies one positive thing can and does emerge: a public acknowledgment and discussion of the mental health crisis that is plaguing this country.
People who are affected by mental illness should feel comfortable about discussing their problems and seeking help. They should never be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed due to an illness that they suffer from through no fault of their own. And the people around them must do a better a job of supporting them and lifting them up rather than alienating them and putting them down. If you are suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts, please seek help right away. You, my friend, matter. You are loved. You are important. You are needed. Take care of yourself, and, if need be, let others take care of you, too. Please.