This is not a punchline.
Country music fans, be warned: Research shows a link between country music and metropolitan suicide rates.
Researchers Steven Stack of Wayne State University and Jim Gundlach from Auburn University hypothesize that topics often present in the lyrics of country songs — such as “marital discord, alcohol abuse and alienation from work” — can foster a suicidal mood among those who are already at risk.
Stack and Gundlach performed a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas and found the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the higher the suicide rate. In their paper, the researchers explain that “the effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty and gun availability.”
Their analysis looked at 1,400 popular country songs and found that about three quarters contained lyrics related to the “travails of love.” Additionally, country songs often portray alcohol consumption as a “necessary method for dealing with life’s problems,” and touch on themes of hopelessness, dissatisfaction with work, financial strain and loneliness. Furthermore, Stack and Gundlach note that many of these topics have strong links to increased rates of suicidal thoughts.
Obviously, just listening to country music is “not expected to drive people to suicide.” So if you’re a country music fan you shouldn’t necessarily feel the need to immediately stop listening to your favorite songs. However, Stack and Gundlach suggest that stress themes common in country music can lead to an increased risk among people with preexisting suicidal moods.
Critics of the original study suggest that reverse causality could be at play. This means exposure to country music might not cause an increase in suicide risk, but that depressed people are likely to seek out country music, which would lead to higher demand for it in cities with higher suicide rates. Additionally, Stack and Gundlach published their findings in 1992, and over the past two decades the country music landscape has undoubtedly been influenced by pop music (thank you, Taylor Swift), and the stresses and causes of depression that lead to suicide are likely to have also shifted.
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 1–800–273–8255 to speak with someone from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org to chat with someone online.