Why Are Musicians More Prone to Suicide?

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Before Kurt Cobain was found dead 20 years ago in his Seattle home, there were several red flags that Nirvana’s lead singer was suicidal: a family history of suicide, bipolar disorder and drug addiction.

During a 1991 tour, he admitted to using heroin to push away suicidal thoughts: "This is the only thing that's saving me from blowing my head off right now."

What's the fascination? The reason, it turns out, is more complex than you might think.
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But was his profession as a musician also a risk factor?

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It’s clear that some artistic professions are more at risk of suicide -- including writers, actors and painters.

The suicide rate of musicians is about three times the national average, according to work by Steve Stack, director of the Center for Suicide Research and a professor at Wayne State University, whose research on occupation and suicide is the most comprehensive to date, covering a period of eight years of death certificates that list occupation.

This alarming statistic measures suicide among all people who are alive, including the very young, whose risk of suicide is low.

But if you measure among the 2,000,000 people who have died each year in the United States, musicians appear to be only slightly more likely to have committed suicide. The percentage of suicides among those who have died is 1.5 percent. The number for musicians is 2.1 percent.

Either way you look at it, Stack says, it's an elevated risk for musicians.