Chris Cornell’s Daughter Lily Cornell Silver on What Her Dad Taught Her About Mental Health, New IGTV Series
Toward the end of April, Lily Cornell Silver was struggling with her mental health. Coronavirus-related lockdowns started a month earlier and the third anniversary of the death of her father, Chris Cornell, was a few weeks away. Although she already had a strong support system of family members, friends, and therapists she could speak with about her anxieties, she turned to the internet for more support and was disappointed at the dearth of resources.
“It’s such an unprecedented experience that there were no resources around dealing with mental health in a pandemic, because unless you’re, like, 100 years old, nobody has experienced it,” she says, speaking in a sunny room of her Seattle home via Zoom. “That was what I was mainly looking for in this time and not really able to find, so that’s something that I was wanting to create.”
With lockdowns, her grief, and eventually the outrage she felt about the killing of George Floyd, Cornell made mental health the focus of a new weekly interview series called Mind Wide Open where guests discuss various facets of the topic via her Instagram. “I’m obviously not a mental health expert,” she says. “I’m just a college student who has experienced a lot by way of grief and trauma. So it’s really important to me to be in conversation with experts in that field.”
She launched the series last month on what would have been her father’s 56th birthday with a chat with Dr. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, a founder of the Trauma Stewardship Institute and author of several books about trauma. They discussed breaking down the stigmas around mental health and the intergenerational effects of trauma. At the start of it, Silver says, “My intention for this series is to destigmatize mental health and to normalize having open discussion about mental health.” She has since posted episodes with Dr. Marc Brackett, a founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Sir Carter, a TikTok personality who discussed his mental health struggles as a gay, black man. For Monday’s episode, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan will join the 20-year-old host.
“Lily has taken the very brave step of exposing her own ups and downs with mental health and carrying forward a message and public conversations with others,” McKagan tells Rolling Stone. “This public forum of Mind Wide Open is a brilliant dive into the real-time realities and solutions for us all to hold onto. Lily has definitely lived it and is still dealing with her own ‘stuff,’ and that she chose to do something like this just shows the character of this super-strong, young woman.”
With a broad set of guests, Silver hopes that people from all backgrounds are able to benefit from the series. “I’d like to emphasize the fact that we are all experiencing a collective trauma right now, whether or not people know it,” she says after her first episode. “I think this is one of the few times in history where it’s affecting literally every single person on the planet. This pandemic and structural supremacy are deeply traumatic. So I want to help provide vocabulary around that trauma and let people know that what you’re feeling is not crazy. No one’s alone in this. We’re all experiencing a similar thing.”
Why did you want to do this IGTV series?
I was struggling since it was around the anniversary of my dad passing, and he was someone who really understood and shared and validated my mental health issues. I launched the series in his honor because I knew that he would be proud of my vulnerability. Helping others and pursuing my passions is something that he always instilled in me.
And in terms of tackling mental health as a topic, I have struggled with anxiety and grief and PTSD my whole life. And my mental health was definitely suffering in quarantine. I truly believe that the inaccessibility and stigma surrounding mental health is a huge part of why people struggle. I’ve had a lot of experience with my own mental health — and in a public forum — so it’s something that I feel like, if I’m able to share and give that back and help others in any way, shape or form, I want to do that.
“I launched the series in [my dad’s] honor because I knew that he would be proud of my vulnerability.”
Where did the Mind Wide Open title come from?
Mind Wide Open was actually inspiration from my dad. When I was a senior in high school, I was in a poetry class — which is, like, very Seattle [laughs]. We had an assignment where we had to find a [family] archive and write a poem about it. [My dad shared some] lyrics from the Nineties and there was this one stanza in something that [stayed with me]: “Half alive/Heard the most brilliant lie/Sleep is eyes closed to the light/Death is the mind wide open.” And that’s something that stuck with me. It just resonated with me so intensely.
When it comes to mental health and launching this series in honor of my dad, there are so many other ways to have your mind wide open. Having these conversations with other people and destigmatizing the conversation around mental health is a way for me to have my mind be wide open. So I think losing someone very traumatically, and struggling with my own suicidal ideation, inspired me to think of what are other ways that you can allow your mind to be wide open. And this series is definitely one of them.
Did you and your dad speak much about depression?
We talked about our shared experiences with mental health. I’ve had anxiety since I was a little kid and he was really validating and reassuring for me in that way. When I was like 12 or something, he was like, “When I was 12, I would be laying awake in bed at night and my heart would be pounding.” [She taps her chest like a heartbeat.] “It felt like I was going to have a heart attack.” He would always say, “You come by [your anxiety] honestly, and it’s something that I’ve struggled with my whole life.” And it was just that reassurance, like “You’re gonna be OK.”
Something he used to say to me that would crack me up was, “Stupid people don’t have anxiety. The fact that you’re worrying about what the outcome is going to be and thinking what every possible option could be and worrying about all the ways that things could go wrong, it’s because you’re very smart and because your brain works really fast. And even though it sucks, and it can feel like a total burden, you’ll harness it and you’ll figure out how to use it in ways that are helpful to you and others.” So it was something that he provided me comfort around, for sure.
Did he ever give you any tools on how to handle depression and anxiety?
Yes. It was just stuff that he learned in terms of breathing exercises and reaching out to other people for support. But [my discussions with him were] honestly more like talking me down. If I was afraid of getting on a plane, he would remind me how many hours that the Alaska Airlines pilots have to train [laughs].
I think it’s so important for everybody to have a sounding board like that in their lives. You need to have someone you can be open with and not worry that they’re going to feel burdened by it or judge you for it. My mom is absolutely that person for me as well.
Has it been hard dealing with your grief given your dad’s renown?
There are pros and cons living in Seattle. He’s everywhere, which is such a beautiful thing, but it can also be really difficult, and it comes with its own unique set of struggles. Not many people have to deal with seeing murals [of their loved ones] all over the place or people recognizing me. There’s a lot of beauty and a lot of pain in that. But it is a beautiful indication of the impact that he made on so many other people. And I’ve had so many people in my life tell me, “I struggled so deeply with my mental health. And your dad’s music helped me so much with that. And it helped me feel seen and heard and validated in my struggle.” So that that part of it is really beautiful.
What topics do you want to address on Mind Wide Open?
For Laura, It was really important to talk about grief and trauma. My next episode is with Dr. Marc Brackett, who focuses on social emotional learning, especially for children. In a few weeks, I’ll be talking to a bipolar expert.
If you want to talk about mental health, you need to really delve into all the different facets that that work within that. So I want to discuss the difference between grief and trauma and then chemical imbalances like anxiety and depression and bipolar disorder. And I have an interview today with my friend, Sir Carter, who is a young, black, gay men from Tumwater, Washington, and he’s going to share his own experience growing up in a small town as a member of multiple marginalized communities and his experience with how that affected his mental health. So it’s all over the place, but in a good way.
What are your tips for maintaining some sense of mental fortitude right now?
Meditation has been super huge for me. I have the privilege of having access to a therapist and a psychiatrist, which is something that’s immensely helpful for me. Playing music with friends, listening to music, and writing music is really grounding and centering for me. It’s just about finding the things that bring you joy and make you want to get out of bed in the morning, coupled with whatever medication you need to be taking and self-care. I think there’s a misconception that self-care is getting your hair cut and painting your nails; self-care is also, like, fucking eating, which can be hard, and taking a shower and, like, going outside. You need to go outside.
What do you wish that people understood more about depression and grief?
Everybody experiences it. Everybody struggles with it. There should be no shame around it.
“Playing music with friends, listening to music, and writing music is really grounding and centering for me.”
How can society actually make a change toward destigmatizing talking about mental health?
On a personal level, the first step you can take is talking about it with the people closest to you and the people in your lives that maybe you haven’t been open with about it yet. In my episode with Dr. Brackett, we talk about infusing emotional intelligence and destigmatization on a societal level, which is part of the emotional evolution that he’s trying to create. [Change] needs to happen on the day-to-day individual level, where people are more open to people in their inner circle and more honest with themselves about how they’re feeling, but then it also has to come from a structural and systemic level in terms of emotional intelligence in our government and in schools, which, as we’ve seen in our government, is not prevalent at all [laughs].
You use Alice in Chains’ “Don’t Follow” for your intro music. Why did you pick that song?
I was having some people make intro music for me, and none of it was sounding quite right. And my mom [Alice in Chains manager Susan Silver] was like, “Let’s think. What about an Alice song?” Hold up, Jar of Flies’ “Don’t Follow” was the first song I clicked on. And I was like, “Oh, that sounds so rad.” And then, Layne [Staley] obviously had his own struggles with mental health and addiction. And I’ve learned a ton from those guys. So it just had a lot of meaning to me in that way, in terms of what I’ve learned from them about strength, fortitude, stamina, and overcoming grief and loss.
Has Jerry Cantrell been supportive of the show?
We’ve talked about it a little bit. I have the support of people like Jerry, [Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer] Matt Cameron, [Alice in Chains bassist] Mike Inez, and [Alice in Chains drummer] Sean Kinney. They’ve been father figures in my life; they’ve been uncles in my life. So they’re going to support whatever endeavors I have. That’s a community I’ve really leaned on in my life.
Let’s end this the way you ended your first episode of Mind Wide Open: What’s been giving you hope lately?
I think the response just to my first episode. The amount of people that have said, “I struggle with so many of these things. I haven’t known how to talk about it.” Or, “My daughter struggles with these things,” or, “My neighbor struggles with these things, and this episode provided me with vocabulary to talk about it.” That part of it just literally filled me with so much joy and to be able to bring validation and hope to other people, it gives me so much hope. It’s a conversation being started. It brings me a ton of hope.