Legendary grunge rocker Chris Cornell committed suicide Thursday, May 18, in his hotel room following a concert in Detroit.
Only two months later, on Thursday, July 20, Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington took his own life at home in California. Bennington had performed at Cornell’s memorial service. The two had been friends. Between them, they left nine children, some as young as 6.
Members of the media – the music media, especially – scrambled for answers. Why? Why now? Were there signs? Could anyone have helped? In the end, their reporting took the shape of rise-and-fall stories that shed little light on what caused the tragedies of May 18 and July 20.
The all-too-real deaths of Cornell and Bennington exist alongside the pop-culture sphere of the fictional TV series, “13 Reasons Why,” which has renewed intense scrutiny, conversation and controversy throughout the nation for its stark depiction of teen suicide.
But conversation on uncomfortable topics is important, says Suzanne Degges-White, chair of the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.
Beyond those fears, she adds, “suicide is still a taboo subject. It’s something we don’t mention, and there’s a lot of shame and stigma for people who’ve lost someone to suicide. It’s a fear that they’ll be looked down upon.”
Five panelists will explore topics of suicide from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, in the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road. The event is free and open to the public; a reception will take place from 5:30 – 6 p.m.
Panelists include Adam Carter, an assistant professor of trauma counseling in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education; and Brooke Ruxton, director of Counseling and Consulting Services at NIU.
Others on the panel are Laura Bartosik, co-founder of Project Seth; Stephanie Weber, executive director, Suicide Prevention Services of America; and Vince Walsh-Rock, assistant principal for Counseling and Student Support Services at Downers Grove South High School.
Degges-White will moderate the discussion, leading the panelists through questions that identify ways in which the average person can recognize the warning signs and feel prepared to speak up.
Her colleagues will also explore topics of self-injury and supportive services provided by schools.
Members of the audience who are mourning the suicides of friends and loved ones will hear valuable tips for working through their grief, Degges-White says. Counselors will attend the event, she adds, and will make themselves available for anyone in need that evening.
And conversation is the goal of “Suicide Prevention: Sharing Strategies of Care,” the latest installment in the College of Education’s Community Learning Series.
“Suicide is a topic a lot of people are afraid to address,” Degges-White says. “They’re afraid that if they talk about it, they might make someone commit suicide or want to commit suicide. They think that if they bring it up, they might be planting seeds of an idea – and that’s not true.”
“If you’ve lost someone to suicide, this is a safe place – and a good opportunity to hear the stories of others,” Degges-White says. “Laura Bartosik lost her son to suicide, and she has turned her grief into positive action. She created Project Seth, a foundation where they promote suicide awareness.”
The Oct. 12 event fits well with a $300,000 grant received last fall from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to decrease stigma around mental health and to promote resilience in the NIU community.
NIU’s three-year grant, which is shared by the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education and Counseling and Consultation Services, funds various training programs and an awareness campaign.
“The connections that we’re making through the grant really indicated that this topic needs to be addressed in multiple areas and not just to our campus,” Degges-White says. “It’s important to talk about this topic. Suicide should never be perceived as an acceptable option to solve a problem.”
For more information, call 815-753-1448 or email [email protected].