Anniversary of frontman Kurt Cobain’s death highlights importance of suicide prevention

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Twenty-two years ago, on April 5, 1994, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain committed suicide following bouts of depression and drug abuse. As the voice of an embittered generation, Cobain left an indelible mark on the world of alternative rock music and was admired by millions. His death has been mourned and scrutinized by many, with most people wondering if the rock icon’s untimely death could have been prevented.

In Cobain’s case, he suffered from manic depression. As a mental illness, depression can develop at any age and often goes unreported. Statistics indicate that most people who suffer from depression aren’t even aware of it. According to the 1999 White House Conference on Mental Health, depression of any type has been the cause of over two-thirds of reported suicides every year. Keep in mind that in 1999, there were 30,000 suicides reported in the United States. In 2013, there were an estimated 41,000.

It seems as though now, more than ever, there needs to be a greater community emphasis on suicide prevention. Fortunately, several means exist to help those who are contemplating suicide. One of the most popular prevention services is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), a 24-hour network that allows callers to receive immediate counseling in times of emotional distress. Because of its accessibility, the Lifeline is often considered one of the most recommended prevention services for those who cannot afford therapy or psychiatric help.

Nevertheless, it has also garnered quite a bit of skepticism from the general public. As someone with a few friends who suffer from some types of depression and have attempted suicide, I’ve recommended them the Lifeline countless times. However, most of these individuals have never used it, for the fear of not knowing what to expect and out of sheer determination to end their lives. The common misconception appears to be that the Lifeline is inadequate and in no way could stop someone from killing themselves. Some people across the nation have even claimed that they were put on hold at times when they needed the Lifeline the most.

In reality, there are multiple studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of crisis hotlines like the Lifeline. In 2007, a study at Rutgers Graduate School found that levels of hopelessness and emotional distress significantly decreased throughout telephone sessions and a majority of callers were given mental health referrals. Thoughts of suicide also decreased in the weeks following the call, and some callers even participated in follow-up assessments.

It’s unknown if Kurt Cobain had ever used a crisis hotline. He had reportedly been involved in a failed detox program at a rehabilitation facility, at which the staff weren’t even aware of his history of mental illness. Could his death have been prevented if he had informed them?

We’ll never know, but statistically speaking, reaching out does more good than harm. Cobain’s death highlights the importance of seeking help during periods of emotional distress and puts suicide prevention at the forefront of conversation about depression and mental illness.

If you’re feeling helpless, isolated or depressed, there’s no shame in reaching out to a friend, a family member, a counselor, or the Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). There’s always a better solution than a permanent end.

Israel Aragon is a freshman majoring in neuroscience. 

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user nafets.

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