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Addiction and Suicide: How to Help Save a Life

“As my broken heart lies bleeding / You say true love is suicide.”

So sings Bon Jovi in his iconic song “I’ll Be There for You,” but with all due respect, we beg to differ.

When you truly love someone, you want the best for them. You want them to be whole, happy, free, and alive.

National Suicide Prevention Week starts on September 10th this year, and September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Now is the time to learn how you can help those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and impulses.

In Case of Emergency

If you or someone you love is in crisis and considering suicide, stop reading and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

If the situation isn’t an emergency, read on.

Suicide, Drug Use, and Mental Health Issues

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 90% of those who die by suicide experienced a mental health condition. People with a mental illness are also more likely to deal with drug and alcohol dependence.

The sad truth is that people with a dual diagnosis – that is, people abuse substances and have a mental health diagnosis – have a higher risk of suicide. The Surgeon General’s 2016 Report on Addiction tells us that many – if not most! – drug-addicted individuals have a dual diagnosis.

Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are linked with both increased incidence of drug abuse and increased risk of self-harm.

Suicides are fueled by feelings of hopelessness, the sense that no matter what, nothing will ever get better. This feeling of futility can characterize depression, and it can also accompany serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.

The Power of Influence

Each person has the power to change the world simply by how they choose to show up each day. You cannot control another person’s behavior, yet you do have the ability to be a positive influence in their life.

You may not think it matters if you return a phone call, send a note of encouragement, or offer a smile, but the truth is that a small act of kindness can change the course of a person’s day, or even their life.

Don’t underestimate the impact that you may have simply by paying attention and listening to your loved ones.

The main thing to do is listen with a lot of empathy.

People struggling with despair need to express what they’re truly feeling to a compassionate witness. In expressing what they feel, they start to feel better.

There’s no need for you to “fix” the problem; in fact, you can’t fix the problem, because it isn’t yours to fix! Just listen with love.

Help Stop Tragedy

Here are our top tips for suicide prevention:

  1. Listen and empathize, without “fixing”.
  2. Validate the person’s feelings.
  3. Ask about whether they’re struggling; start the conversation.
  4. Ask them what they need, and honor the request when possible.
  5. Take them seriously; don’t minimize.
  6. Partner with professionals.
  7. Recognize a cry for help.

The Basics of Suicide Prevention: Find Professional Support, Offer Practical Help

Assuming that your loved one does want to heal from hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, what can you do to help?

One of the very best things you can do is direct them to professional mental health supports.

You can help them to find a qualified counselor and/or psychiatrist. You might also assist by accompanying them to an initial appointment, or going with them to the drugstore to pick up their medication.

Ask your loved one what they need from you, and suggest practical possibilities too. For example, calling or texting on a regular basis might be a welcome source of emotional support.

Your continued presence will give them proof that they are not alone in the struggle.

Know the Signs, Help Save a Life

When you educate yourself, you empower yourself.

Read and learn from NAMI’s Risk of Suicide page so that you can watch for warning signs of suicide. These indicators include, but are not limited to:

  • Giving away personal and prized possessions
  • Suddenly stepping back from social relationships
  • Transitioning suddenly from deep depression to serenity, as well as frequent mood swings, major ups and downs
  • Gathering weapons or supplies related to suicide (i.e. guns, drugs)
  • A relapse or significant increase in drug or alcohol abuse
  • Speaking or writing about death and suicide; making veiled or overt references to wanting to die

If you recognize these signs in someone you love, don’t wait. Seek the support of a trained mental health professional in your community, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255).

The Choice We Make for Ourselves

That said, we don’t want to imply that you have control over another person’s choices. Each person’s life is their own to live.

By way of example, as a dual diagnosis residential addiction treatment center, we only welcome Participants who are self-motivated to recover.

We’re not interested in what their spouse, parents, or friends want them to do; we care about what they want for their own lives, because that’s what’s going to determine their success.

Ultimately, the choice to learn, grow, and heal is one that each of us must make for ourselves.

In the meantime, use these tips to stay engaged. If your loved ones are suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, help them to find the professional treatment they need to avoid a tragedy.

Addiction and Suicide: How to Help Save a Life

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Addiction and Suicide: How to Help Save a Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Sep 2017
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