Breaking the Silence: Suicide and Addiction
Suicide. It’s a subject that no one likes to talk about. Yet suicide is a reality, especially for those struggling with addiction and/or mental illness. Data shows that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the Unites States, which means approximately 44,965 Americans die by suicide each year. Why? Who are these individuals? How can we prevent this from occurring? Everyone is asking these questions.
First, it is important to note that every circumstance of suicide is different. Many times, there are numerous contributing factors rather than just one cause. Statistics show of those who die by suicide, more than 90% have a diagnosable mental or substance use disorder (SUD). People who abuse alcohol and/or other drugs attempt to kill themselves nearly six times as frequently as people who do not abuse substances. Alcohol and other drugs cause loss of inhibition, escalate impulsive behavior and over time, lead to variations in brain chemistry. Alcohol and other drug use also can be disruptive to relationships, which in turn results in loss of social connections and alienation or isolation.
There are many warning signs of suicidal ideation. As clinicians, we look out for three categories: Speech, Behavior and Mood. So what might this look like? If an individual begins talking about being a burden to others, feeling trapped or feeling like they have no reason to live, then these are speech warning signs. It is important to note that this speech may not be as blunt or clear as we would think. Any time you are unsure of what an individual is saying or meaning… then simply ask. Behaviors to look out for may include, withdrawing from activities, isolating from friends and family, saying goodbye to people or giving away prized possessions. Loss of interest, depression, rage, irritability or anxiety, these are all mood warning signs.
Three Factors of Suicidal Ideation
We also have factors that should be determined and examined. Three categories of factors exist: Health factors, Environmental factors and Historical factors.
Health factors that need to be inspected include mental health disorders, substance use disorders and serious and/or chronic pain conditions.
Environmental factors include things like stressful life events such as divorce, loss of job or death. Another environmental factor is exposure to another person’s suicide. This aspect is often overlooked because people frequently think that if someone has experienced the pain from losing a loved one to suicide then they would never commit suicide themselves. On the contrary, the word “pain” is lost in the shuffle as are these hurting individuals. Prolonged stressors are also incorporated into environmental factors, things such as bullying, harassment, relationship problems and unemployment. Last but not least, we must look at if someone’s environment allows them access to lethal means such as firearms.
Historical factors simply include two important pieces: previous suicide attempts and family history of suicide attempts. Is suicide genetic? No. Suicide in and of itself is not genetic but studies show that depression is. People who have first-degree relatives (for example a parent or sibling) who are diagnosed with depression appear to have a two to three times greater risk of developing depression than someone who does not.
So what do we do? Now that we are aware of some of the warning signs, factors and information that contributes to suicidal ideation, what do we do to help prevent someone from making the permanent decision to take their own life? The most important thing we can do is talk and ask questions. Valley Hope fights day in and day out to remove the stigma that exists surrounding mental illness, addiction and suicide. Barriers to preventing suicide can sometimes be as simple as not asking the question or being unwilling to engage in conversation with someone who is struggling. As difficult as it may be, we must come out and ask, “Are you thinking of or planning to kill yourself”. By getting to the point and being very clear in our questions we can achieve the first step in attempting to help someone by defining what they are faced with and not assuming or being left with uncertainty. Next time you are faced with someone in despair be willing to ask the hard question. It may help save someone’s life.
Valley Hope believes in the value and worth of each and every person. When someone struggling walks in our doors, they are met by loving, caring and trained clinicians and staff. Valley Hope is committed to provide a quality continuum of comprehensive treatment in a caring atmosphere and to increase life satisfaction and empower others. At Valley Hope, we are dedicated to helping individuals and families break the silence and learn to regain purpose, meaning and overall recovery.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please do not wait another moment to call the National Suicide Hotline at 800.273.8255. We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved one.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. National Library of Medicine
Credit: Melissa H., LADC-MH