Unfortunately, patients with mental illness are at a greater risk for addiction and suicide than people without mental illnesses. In 2014, approximately 9.8 million adults in the United States had a serious mental illness, and 15.7 million adults and 2.8 million youth had a major depressive episode during that year. It is expected that by 2020, mental and substance abuse disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide.

Preventing addiction and suicide are of great concern to loved ones of people with a mental illness, and here’s some advice to help you keep your loved one as safe and healthy as possible.

Be sure your loved one receives regular treatment for his mental illness

When people who have depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder receive mental health treatment, they are able to live life more fully, and their loved ones are able to have more peace of mind. Mental health treatment has several benefits, including healthier relationships, better life choices, improved physical health and well-being, better chances of coping with life’s ups and downs, and meeting your potential.

There are a variety of treatments available for mental health patients, including medications, therapy, and psychosocial services such as psychiatric rehabilitation, housing, employment, and peer supports. Medical professionals directly involve those with mental illness in designing their own treatment plans because it leads to more effective treatment and better outcomes. This means that your loved one could have some choice in his treatment plan and feel more empowered and be more willing to stick to the plan.

You also play an important role in your loved one’s mental health plan by providing support, encouragement, and love. You can offer to drive him to appointments, participate in counseling or therapy with him, and become more educated about his mental illness and treatment.

Know the signs of addiction

In the United States, an estimated 8.9 million people have both a mental health and a substance abuse issue. Sadly, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) reports that 55.8% of people struggling with dual disorders to not receive treatment for either, and only 7.4% get treatment for both issues. If you suspect your loved one has both a mental illness and a substance abuse issue, you need to alert his health care provider. You also need to be aware of the signs of addiction so that you can give a full report to the doctor:

  • Behavioral changes
    • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
    • Getting into trouble frequently
    • Engaging in suspicious or secretive behaviors
    • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid for no reason
    • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
    • Sudden mood swings
    • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
  • Physical changes
    • Bloodshot eyes
    • Pupils of abnormal size
    • Sudden weight loss or gain
    • Deteriorating physical appearance
    • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Social changes
    • Sudden change in friends, hangouts, and hobbies
    • Legal problems relating to substance abuse
    • Unexplained need for money
    • Sudden financial problems
    • Using substances despite its impact on relationships

It can be difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of a mental illness and the symptoms of addiction. That’s why it is best to voice your concerns to your loved one’s doctor as soon as you fear there may be a substance abuse issue.

Young Man Having Counselling Session

Young Man Having Counselling Session

Be aware of the signs of suicide

While the majority of people with mental illness do not die by suicide, mental health patients are at a greater risk of having suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide. Of people who die by suicide in the United States, more than 90% have a diagnosable mental disorder. It is believed that between 2% and 15% of people who have been diagnosed with major depression die by suicide. Likewise, an estimated 3%-20% of people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder die by suicide. Finally, 6%-15% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia die by suicide, and between 75% and 95% of these individuals are men.

Your loved one faces many challenges when battling a mental illness, and they may exhibit some warning signs of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Discussing killing oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as conducting online searches or purchasing a gun
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Feeling like a burden on others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Suddenly seeming calmer or happier
  • Visiting people or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away possessions

Knowing what to look for and seeking immediate help if you believe your loved one is in danger of attempting suicide is critical. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), but you should call 911 if you believe your loved one is in immediate danger.

By knowing the signs of addiction and suicide, you are in a position to help your loved one with a mental illness avoid serious and life-threatening issues. Offer support, encourage treatment, and listen to your loved one to help him lead a stable, productive life.


Jennifer Woodson enjoys serving the public as a writer for PublicHealthCorps.org. The site is dedicated to putting the public back into public health by serving as a hub of reputable and useful public information on health topics.

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