Substance Abuse Often Associated With Suicides In Tennessee

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 | 3:02pm

NASHVILLE – In observance of National Suicide Prevention Month, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is encouraging all Tennesseans living with depression, hopelessness, and threats of self-harm to seek help!

“Most people who consider suicide have depression or a related mental illness, and as a result have a sense of hopelessness, said E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “In Tennessee, it’s estimated that roughly half of the people who die by suicide have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system at the time of death.”

A staggering 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental illness and/or a substance use disorder. 50-75% of people who are alcohol-dependent and who die by suicide also suffer from depression.

 “Research shows strong links between suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness,” Commissioner Varney said. “Among older adults, suicide is a serious problem. The most common cause is untreated depression.”

  • Up to 7 percent of people with alcohol abuse disorders will eventually die by suicide, with middle-aged and older people at especially high risk.
  • Both suicide and substance abuse have been noted as contributing factors to rising mortality rates among middle-aged Caucasian males in the United States.
  • Men with a substance abuse disorder are 2.3 times more likely to die by suicide than those without one.
  • Women with a substance use disorder are 6.5 times more likely to die by suicide than those without one.

“Many older people will hide their depression, because they don’t want to be seen as weak, confused, or suffering from dementia. It’s critical to watch closely for any hints of depression and take any hints or warning signs seriously,” said Commissioner Varney. “Taken together, these findings suggest that both mental health and substance use issues compound, and in many instances amplify each other, increasing the likelihood of a suicide attempt.“

“The best way to find out if someone is thinking about suicide is to ask,” said Commissioner Varney. “Contrary to popular belief, asking someone about suicide will not give them the idea, in fact it could show them that someone really cares.”

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Phone Line. Call 855-CRISIS-1 or 855-274-7471.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) connects both suicidal persons and their loved ones with trained counselors who can offer emotional support, talk someone out of an attempt, and arrange for referral as necessary.

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN), in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and substance abuse prevention agencies across the state, work to reach people at extreme risk for suicide, especially those with substance use disorders.

For more information about suicide and resources in Tennessee, visit TSPN on the web at:

Our Mission: Provide, plan for, and promote a comprehensive array of quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, habilitation, rehabilitation and recovery support services for Tennesseans with mental illness and substance abuse issues. Our Vision: To be one of the nation's most innovative and proactive state behavioral health authorities for Tennesseans dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems. For more information, visit

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services