How Is America’s Suicide Crisis Linked with Substance Abuse and Mental Health?

How Is America’s Suicide Crisis Linked with Substance Abuse and Mental Health?

From California to Connecticut, suicide is on the rise in the United States.

This is according to the Centers for Disease Control, which reported a 24 percent overall increase between 1999 and 2014.1

Looking at the data in the report, a few variables stand out from among the rest. One is the year 2006. That was the turning point for men when a previously flat line suddenly began to climb, jumping from 17.8 suicides per 100,000 people to 20.7 just eight years later. The other variable is the age group that spans from 45 to 64, which saw a dramatic climb for both genders during this same time period.

As of today, an average of 117 suicides take place every 24 hours.2 That’s more than 42,700 per year. By comparison, just over 38,000 people died in car accidents last year here in the United States.3

Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders Among Possible Causes

It is hard to say what might be creating this trend. Some say feelings of personal isolation may be contributing as more and more people find themselves single, either due to divorce or having never married. Others point a finger at an economy that increasingly favors a small minority over the general public.4

What we do know, however, is this: When it comes to suicide, substance abuse and mental illness are among the two biggest risk factors.5

“I think that probably few appreciate the magnitude of the relationship between substance abuse and suicide,” said Richard McKeon, PhD, MPH, Public Health Adviser for Suicide Prevention at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.6

According to the CDC, approximately 22 percent of deaths by suicide involve alcohol, 10 percent involve marijuana and 22 percent involve opiates of some kind. Put another way, a person engaged in alcohol misuse or dependence has a suicide risk 10 times that of the general population, and individuals who inject drugs have a suicide risk 14 times greater.7

Mental illness is even more likely to be present than substance abuse. Of course, the majority of people with a mental illness will not die by suicide. That said, of those who do, more than 90 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder.8

The percent of people with mental illness who die by suicide varies based on the disorder, and includes the following statistics:9

  • 2-15% of those diagnosed with major depression
  • 3-20% of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder
  • 6-15% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia

How to Help

It may seem counterintuitive, but researchers agree: If a person is contemplating suicide, one of the best ways a loved one can help is to bring it up.

“Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive,” the Mayo Clinic instructs. “In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.”10

Questions the clinic suggests for concerned loved ones include:

  • How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide before or tried to harm yourself before?
  • Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
  • Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?

A few signs that show a person may be considering suicide include talking about feeling like a burden on others, giving away prized possessions and increasing the use of drugs and/or alcohol (For a more complete list, click here).

Finally, if you find yourself struggling with thoughts of suicide, do not hesitate to seek help. Groups standing by ready to offer their support right now include:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Veterans Crisis Line

Lifeline Crisis Chat

Crisis Text Line


6. Ibid.
9. Ibid.

Written by Tamarra Kemsley