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John McMillin: Artists’ deaths are a reminder of suicide risks

John McMillin • Updated Aug 8, 2017 at 6:00 PM

I’ve been an employee of the United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland for more than a decade, and in that time, we’ve tried to help and educate our local supporters and clients about what matters most in our communities. 

With that in mind, we want share the following message about suicide and what you should know. Although many of our readers may not be familiar with the people of this particular case, we feel the information is relevant to us all.

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network wishes to convey its sympathies on the loss of Chester Bennington following his death by suicide last week in Los Angeles.

 Bennington’s death comes only a few months after the loss of Sound Garden lead singer Chris Cornell, a longtime friend of Bennington, and on what would have been Cornell’s birthday. While it is far too early to speculate what prompted Bennington to take his own life, the personnel connection between the two artists is a reminder of the point that people who lose friends and family to suicide are at high risk for suicide themselves.

“Current research suggests that each death by suicide affects an average of 147 people who knew or were close to the deceased,” said Scott Ridgway, TSPN’s executive director. “An average of six of these survivors experiences a major life disruption. These survivors, often family members and close friends, may be impaired in basic day-to-day functioning, with increased risk of developing depression or post-traumatic disorder. They are also at higher risk for considering or attempting suicide.”

 In the weeks, days, and months after losing a friend or loved one to suicide, survivors may experience many emotions unique to this kind of grief – guilt over not being able to “save” the person they lost, anger over being intentionally left behind, and shame and isolation caused by the lingering stigma attached to suicide and the mental health and substance abuse issues. Those left behind are strongly encouraged to seek out other survivors who can provide them with both emotional support and practical resources. The American Association of Suicidology offers “SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide,” a free guide written by a survivor for survivors that addresses the complicated aspects of suicide grief and loss available at bit.ly/204tN8F. Additionally, many communities have a support group dedicated to suicide grief, providing additional insights and support sometimes not available in conventional grief support groups. TSPN maintains a list of such groups across Tennessee at tspn.org/for-survivors-of-suicide.

 TSPN joins the nation and the world in mourning the needless loss of two beloved musicians within the space of a few months. But the loss of Chester Bennington, so soon after the loss of Chris Cornell, should serve as a reminder of the need for those affected by suicide to reach out for help and for hope to see them through the immediate aftermath of the loss they have suffered.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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