Mental Disorders, Substance Use, and Suicide Prevention

July 19, 2023

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There are many contributing factors to suicide risk. The most common include mental illness and substance use disorders. It’s vital to take action if you are concerned for a loved one’s well-being, whatever that means for you. If you believe that someone close to you is at risk of suicide, you may feel like doing everything you can to get them the help that they need. Learning about mental illness and substance use disorder is an important first step. Read on for some insights from By My Side.

Correlation between mental disorders, substance use disorder, and suicidal behavior

Substance use disorder and mental illnesses are among the leading risk factors for suicide, and that risk is greater when the two factors co-occur. Common mental illnesses correlated with increased suicidality include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, among others.

When someone is experiencing a form of mental illness, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope. This can, in turn, lead to a substance use disorder, commonly known as substance abuse or addiction. Addiction can have adverse effects on mental health, including feeling purposeless, engaging in isolation, and experiencing mood swings or aggression.

How substance abuse and mental disorders increase suicide risk

Substance abuse can lead to poor judgment, impulsivity, and loss of inhibition. It heightens psychological distress, often leading to an increased sense of despair. A person suffering from addiction is also more likely to isolate themselves, which can make it easier for them to self-harm.

When under the influence of drugs, one’s thinking can be clouded and confused, which makes it difficult to implement coping strategies and, as Verywell Mind suggests, take actions outlined in a suicide safety plan. These are common signs of substance use disorder:

  • High consumption of a given drug over an extended period
  • Unsuccessful effort to control drug use
  • Strong urge to use the drug
  • Repeated use that inhibits ability to fulfill responsibilities
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as hand tremors, vomiting, hallucinations, insomnia, nausea, agitation, and anxiety

When left untreated, the symptoms of mental illness can lead to a deep sense of misery, which can then lead to suicidal thoughts. The American Psychiatric Association notes that while each mental disorder may present unique signs and symptoms, the most common ones include:

  • Rapid shift in moods
  • Feeling disconnected and a need to isolate oneself
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep pattern—insomnia or oversleeping
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Aggravated anxiety
  • Cloudy and illogical thinking
  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, and touch
  • A sense of apathy
  • Feeling lethargic

Preventative measures for suicide

Taking preventative measures will lessen one’s likelihood of committing suicide. The number one preventative measure is seeking treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. A mental health professional or addiction specialist can assess someone’s condition to determine the most effective treatment strategy, which include inpatient psychiatric treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, medication, individual and group therapy, support groups, and 12-step programs for substance use disorder. Fortunately, many insurance policies cover such treatments, so reach out to your provider to check on your coverage.

Other preventative measures include having family and community support, establishing a trusting relationship with a counselor or physician, and cultivating an optimistic view of life. Educate yourself about mental illness, substance use disorder, and their management and treatment—it will help prepare for recovery.

Once your loved one has begun the recovery process, encourage them to engage in activities like volunteering in their community and seeking employment to occupy their time and give them a sense of purpose. They can also incorporate some simple exercise in their daily self-care program, like walking each morning, which has been shown to have mental health benefits.

A mental illness or substance use disorder diagnosis is not an assurance for suicide. While it is a risk factor, it is not a death sentence. With professional help, you or your loved one can overcome the challenges these disorders present and move on to lead a fulfilling life.

By My Side encourages people to express their emotions in a safe way and discover new perspectives on their situations. Contact us today to learn more!


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