On World Mental Health Day, Understand That Addiction and Suicide Are Undeniably Linked.
October 10th is World Mental Health Day. 2019’s theme is Working together to prevent suicide. The idea is that if you know someone you’re concerned about, speaking up could save their life. We’re often hesitant to get involved, meddling in others’ affairs, or implying someone is struggling with an often stigmatized illness (leaving them offended). This makes us act as silent witnesses to others’ personal struggles—those we aren’t intimate with, those that make late-night posts for help across social media or behave erratically at work. We give them their space. World Mental Health Day is asking us to lean in, instead of leaning back.
All this applies to depression and suicidal ideation, and it applies to addiction as well. Often, the two struggles are inextricably linked. You can, of course, commit suicide without drinking or using drugs. But suicide is a leading cause of death among people with substance use disorders, and alcohol is present in 30 to 40% of suicide attempts. Statistics say over half of all suicides are associated with alcohol and drug use, and 25% of those struggling from substance use disorder commit suicide. This is especially ominous in the midst of the opioid crisis, when the potency of fentanyl is that of a loaded gun, and a bad day puts death quite literally at your fingertips. We don’t know how many opiate overdose deaths are actually suicides.
I made countless suicide attempts while drinking and drugging, desperate in a way I haven’t known when sober. The darkness reached at the bottom of a glass or the last line, when the sun is rising and the rest of the sane world is sleeping, when you haven’t eaten and haven’t slept, walking that tightrope of mania desperate to avoid a crash—that’s a danger zone for suicidal thoughts that many addicts know well.
There could be a number of reasons for this commingling of struggles between substance use disorders and suicide. People might have a genetic predisposition towards both mental illness and substance use disorder. Drugs and alcohol themselves can induce a feeling of hopelessness conducive to suicide. They can also cause isolation that exacerbates these feelings. Social factors can place someone at a higher risk for both addiction and mental illness, such as lack of social support.
Substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide are also all wrapped up in a shroud of stigma together. Unlike a sprained wrist or broken leg, about which friends and strangers alike are all too curious, bandages on wrists create a different sort of awkward silence. This is the same awkward silence those with track marks, or the loved ones of those struggling with addiction and all the inappropriate behaviors and appearances it causes, know all too well. What do you say? When do you say it?
Today, we’re asking that you say something. Reach out to someone that you know needs help. Ask if they’re okay. Talk about your own struggles. Share a post on social media about how you’re really doing. Talk about your own experience with mental illness and addiction. Or don’t talk act all. Just act as a safe space for those who need to talk. Put away your judgments. And then listen. A life could depend on it.
If you or someone you know is struggling, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
24 hours a day, 7 days a week.