Mental Or Substance Abuse Disorder Essay, Research Paper
Most everyone at some time in his or her life will experience periods of anxiety,
sadness, and despair. These are normal reactions to the pain of loss, rejection, or
disappointment. Those with serious mental illnesses, however, often experience
much more extreme reactions, reactions that can leave them mired in hopelessness.
And when all hope is lost, some feel that suicide is the only solution. It isn?t.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, scientific evidence has shown
that almost all people who take their own lives have a diagnosable mental or
substance abuse disorder, and the majority have more than one disorder. In other
words, the feelings that often lead to suicide are highly treatable. That?s why it is
imperative that we better understand the symptoms of the disorders and the
behaviors that often accompany thoughts of suicide. With more knowledge, we can
often prevent the devastation of losing a loved one.
Now the eighth-leading cause of death overall in the U.S. and the third-leading
cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years, suicide has
become the subject of much recent focus. U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher,
for instance, recently announced his Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, 1999, an
initiative intended to increase public awareness, promote intervention strategies, and
enhance research. The media, too, has been paying very close attention to the
subject of suicide, writing articles and books and running news stories. Suicide
among our nation?s youth, a population very vulnerable to self-destructive
emotions, has perhaps received the most discussion of late. Maybe this is because
teenage suicide seems the most tragic?lives lost before they?ve even started. Yet,
while all of this recent focus is good, it?s only the beginning. We cannot continue to
lose so many lives unnecessarily.
Some Basic Facts
In 1996, more teenagers and young adults died of suicide than from cancer,
heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and
chronic lung disease combined.
In 1996, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among college
students, the third-leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24 years,
and the fourth- leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 14 years.
From 1980 to 1996, the rate of suicide among African-American males
aged 15 to 19 years increased by 105 percent.
It is a hopeful sign that while the incidence of suicide among adolescents and young
adults nearly tripled from 1965 to 1987, teen suicide rates in the past ten years
have actually been declining, possibly due to increased recognition and treatment.
(1996 is the most recent year for which suicide statistics are available.)
There are many behavioral indicators that can help parents or friends recognize the
threat of suicide in a loved one. Since mental and substance-related disorders so
frequently accompany suicidal behavior, many of the cues to be looked for are
symptoms associated with such disorders as depression, bipolar disorder (manic
depression), anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use, disruptive behavior disorders,
borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia.
Some common symptoms of these disorders include:
Extreme personality changes
Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
Significant loss or gain in appetite
Difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day
Fatigue or loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Withdrawal from family and friends
Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
Sadness, irritability, or indifference
Having trouble concentrating
Extreme anxiety or panic
Drug or alcohol use or abuse
Aggressive, destructive, or defiant behavior
Poor school performance
Hallucinations or unusual beliefs
Tragically, many of these signs go unrecognized. And while suffering from one of
these symptoms certainly does not necessarily mean that one is suicidal, it?s always
best to communicate openly with a loved one who has one or more of these
behaviors, especially if they are unusual for that person.
There are also some more obvious signs of the potential for committing suicide.
Putting one?s affairs in order, such as giving or throwing away favorite belongings, is
a strong clue. And it can?t be stressed more strongly that any talk of death or
suicide should be taken seriously and paid close attention to. It is a sad fact that
while many of those who commit suicide talked about it beforehand, only 33
percent to 50 percent were identified by their doctors as having a mental illness at
the time of their death and only 15 percent of suicide victims were in treatment at
the time of their death. Any history of previous suicide attempts is also reason for
concern and watchfulness. Approximately one-third of teens who die by suicide
have made a previous suicide attempt. It should be noted as well that while more
females attempt suicide, more males are successful in completing suicide.
While the reasons that teens commit suicide vary widely, there are some common
situations and circumstances that seem to lead to such extreme measures. These
include major disappointment, rejection, failure, or loss such as breaking up with a
girlfriend or boyfriend, failing a big exam, or witnessing family turmoil. Since the
overwhelming majority of those who commit suicide have a mental or
substance-related disorder, they often have difficulty coping with such crippling
stressors. They are unable to see that their life can turn around, unable to recognize
that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Usually, the common
reasons for suicide listed above are actually not the “causes” of the suicide, but
rather triggers for suicide in a person suffering from a mental illness or
More recently, scientists have focused on the biology of suicide. Suicide is thought
by some to have a genetic component, to run in families. And research has shown
strong evidence that mental and substance-related disorders, which commonly
affect those who end up committing suicide, do run in families. While the suicide of
a relative is obviously not a direct “cause” of suicide, it does, perhaps, put certain
individuals at more risk than others. Certainly, the suicide of one?s parent or other
close family member could lead to thoughts of such behavior in a teen with a mental
or substance-related disorder.
Research has also explored the specific brain chemistry of those who take their
own lives. Recent studies indicate that those who have attempted suicide may also
have low levels of the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin helps control impulsivity,
and low levels of the brain chemical are thought to cause more impulsive behavior.
Suicides are often committed out of impulse. Antidepressant drugs affecting
serotonin are used to treat depression, impulsivity, and suicidal thoughts. However,
much more research is needed to confirm these hypotheses and, hopefully,
eventually lead to more definite indicators of and treatment for those prone to
How to Help
Since people who are contemplating suicide feel so alone and helpless, the most
important thing to do if you think a friend or loved one is suicidal is to communicate
with him or her openly and frequently. Make it clear that you care; stress your
willingness to listen. Also, be sure to take all talk of suicide seriously. Don?t assume
that people who talk about killing themselves won?t really do it. An estimated 80
percent of all those who commit suicide give some warning of their intentions or
mention their feelings to a friend or family member. And don?t ignore what may
seem like casual threats or remarks. Statements like “You?ll be sorry when I?m
dead” and “I can?t see any way out,” no matter how off-the-cuff or jokingly said,
may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
One of the most common misconceptions about talking with someone who might
be contemplating suicide is that bringing up the subject may make things worse.
This is not true. There is no danger of “giving someone the idea.” Rather, the
opposite is correct. Bringing up the question of suicide and discussing it without
showing shock or disapproval is one of the most helpful things you can do. This
openness shows that you are taking the individual seriously and responding to the
severity of his or her distress.
yo mama can suck it